Building broadband demand in Lac qui Parle Valley


Last Monday I traveled with Bill Coleman to Lac qui Parle County in western Minnesota. I went to work with the LqP Economic Development Authority to promote local businesses via social media. Bill was going to work with Lac qui Parle Valley folks on their Blandin Broadband Community projects.

LqPV is one of nine communities selected to become a Blandin Broadband Community and part of the package is getting support from a community coach. Bill has years of experience, including being one of the main drivers for the recent MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) project at Blandin – a project that results in driving greater broadband expansion to rural areas. I wanted to share notes on the meeting for a few reasons – but mostly as a help to other communities that are interested in expanding broadband in their own areas.

On a high level, it’s easy to see the value of outside support. The project will not work without local champions – but I think it can be made easier with support from someone who has experience and expertise expanding broadband. Bernadine Joselyn from the Blandin Foundation is fond of saying that “you have to do it yourself but you can’t do it alone.” Also I think there’s a certain value in having to report updates to someone.

On a more detailed level, Bill visited with local tech folks on deployment public hot spots. Like many other regions, LqPV has uneven broadband access. Hotspots can be a good way to get some access to folks who need it and provider publicity and opportunity for folks who might not be great adopters. Below are some of the notes from the meeting on community hotspots…

There are likely locations for hotspots – libraries, county buildings, city halls, department of transportation facilities. But some questions arise:

  • Can we use the county broadband for public access? Some private providers ban shared use like that. Do the counties have permission to share bandwidth?
  • What can the BBC grant pay for? Equipment, ongoing connectivity? Does that connectivity include ISP charges or going back to previous point, can we tap into county-provided bandwidth?
  • Do the hotspots need to be supervised? For example does the library have to be open or can the wireless connection be left for folks to work outside the building? (Opening the wireless beyond library hours has been successful in at least 3 libraries in LqPV – Appleton, Milan and Willmar. Patrons are happy – even though after- hours-access means they might be working in their parking lots.)
  • The school is looking at opening up the network after school – especially before and during activity times. And we’ve looked at getting a tutor. We’ve also looked at wireless access on the buses.
  • Could students to get intern type positions to help keep public computer centers open and promote youth employment?
  • How do we keep the building and access secure? In terms of personal safety of use for users, safety of local/county property and assuring no nefarious activity online.
  • Finding a government use for wireless helps make the case for the government end of the deal. So if hotspot is housed in a place when government host can use the connectivity it makes it more attractive to the government host – maybe to take advantage o RFID application in loading dock or even just webcam to promote tourism.

After the hotpsot discussion, Bill spoke to the LqPV Board of Education – both thanking them for them for taking advantage of broadband options and inspiring them to think even bigger.

Bill also took the time to talk to the EDA folks – since we were there to get them thinking about getting involved in BBC. That was a great reminder that sometimes it takes an outsider to is focused on broadband to help make those connections. The EDA has been involved in past efforts, they are thinking about broadband, they probably see folks in the meetings on a regular basis but the dots needed to be connected.

So that’s a day in the life of a broadband project – again intended to spur other communities to think about broadband expansion too – and give a quick update on progress in LqPV.