Lincoln County residents come together to talk broadband needs

LINCOLN COUNTY — Residents of Lincoln County have already done a lot of work to improve their Internet access. But there’s still plenty of work to do to catch up to present-day needs, said speakers at a virtual meeting this week.

“Things are progressing so rapidly in this broadband world that we have to do everything we can to stay current, much less get ahead of the curve,” said Vince Robinson, executive director of the Lincoln County Enterprise Development Corp. “We need to have all of us engaged in that, so we don’t have anybody left behind.”

Lincoln County residents, including businesspeople and representatives from schools and public libraries, shared their thoughts on what was needed to build thriving communities with technology. The conversation will be used to help guide possible broadband projects.

“It’s not about the broadband, it’s about what you do with it, and how you make it work for a better life and a better future,” said Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation.

The meeting was held on Zoom and led by the Lincoln County Enterprise Development Corp. and the Blandin Foundation, Minnesota-based organization that partners with rural Minnesota communities.

This year, Lincoln County was named one of six new Blandin Broadband Communities. The Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) program is a two-year partnership between rural Minnesota communities and the Blandin Foundation. The communities chosen for the program work with the foundation to develop local broadband projects. Lincoln County will need to allocate and spend up to $100,000 in funding.

“We’re so happy to have been chosen by Blandin,” Robinson said. “They’ve been a partner with Lincoln County for quite some time in our broadband goals.”

Over the past few years, fiber networks have been expanded in Lincoln County, and the city of Ivanhoe is now the only part of the county without fiber optic cable running to homes and businesses, Robinson said.

At this point, Lincoln County has done a good job of getting broadband, but there are still gaps in whether people can access and afford it, Robinson said.

“I do think we need to spend some time researching why they’re being left behind,” he said.

It’s an important question, because Internet access now affects everything from education and health care to job applications, Robinson said.

In small groups, Lincoln County residents discussed what kinds of assets and challenges they had in areas like broadband access, workforce development and innovation. Lincoln County has resources like broadband infrastructure and public libraries that make Internet access available. But technology education, access and affordability were barriers to using that infrastructure.

“Ideally, everybody would have affordable access to Internet and have the devices they need,” said Karen Lichtsinn.

Group members said community engagement and education were possible ways to improve technological innovation and use in the county. Cristy Olson said it will also be important to find ways to reach different populations — for example, not everyone uses the same forms of media or social media, she said.

The next step in the process for Lincoln County will be an online brainstorming meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be a chance for residents to talk about projects they would like to implement with BBC grant funds. The meeting will also talk about voting and volunteering for teams that will put projects into action, said Mary Magnuson of the Blandin Foundation.


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