For the leadership and commitment Jan has shown to the now eight townships of the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative over the near decades-long struggle to bring broadband connectivity to her rural region due north of Duluth.
Her steadfast positive outlook and consistent efforts to work with incumbent and prospective providers alike has allowed this initiative to continue forward. Hope again is on the rise as the area electric cooperative has submitted an application for Fiber-to-the-Home deployment across the area. Jan is emblematic of citizen leaders in the Cloquet Valley and across the State of Minnesota who invest hundreds of hours on this challenging, but critical community vitality issue on behalf of their neighbors. Jan is truly an inspiration to our Blandin Foundation Broadband team and validates the work that we do on behalf of rural Minnesotans.
Why is it important that rural Minnesotans have broadband access?
In 2019, this question is a bit surprising, as rural people and communities of Minnesota all know the answer. The internet IS THE primary communication tool in society across the rural-to-urban spectrum, used by business, education, health care, social networks and by all age groups. In conveying information, 21st Century broadband is as important as our roads and highways, and more important than the telephone. Rural people use the internet ubiquitously, and their needs for faster internet are growing, as societal tools increasingly require greater speeds for upload and download. However, in Minnesota, too many rural communities do not have access to 21st Century affordable high-speed internet (broadband). Lack of access limits the utility of the internet for rural users to fully participate in society.
What do you see as Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative’s biggest broadband victory?
Persistence – over nearly 10 years – in keeping our 7 townships “shovel ready” – is our biggest victory. We have continued our own broadband education, feasibility studies, participation in broadband dialogues, and telling our story in regional and state-wide broadband events, lobbying any and all providers, as well as keeping our citizens engaged and informed. Incremental wireless options have helped our citizens begin to realize some of the benefits from internet tools, but we have also persisted through several failed opportunities as well. We understand that low population densities do not provide return-on-investment to most providers, but we have continued to seek solutions.
What role did local leadership play in your accomplishments?
The Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative (CVII) is a rural township-driven effort. Boards of Supervisors from the Towns of Ault, Alden, Gnesen, Fairbanks, Normanna, North Star and Pequaywan – and most recently Lakewood – have delegated representatives to the CVII, and these folks have been the true leaders of our broadband efforts. Rural leaders understand local situations. Town Supervisors and Representatives and a few talented and dedicated citizens have done all the work that has kept our broadband initiative going over many years. These mostly volunteer public servants have kept the interests of their township residents, businesses, elderly, children and communities at the forefront of our efforts. I believe that by being a township-level effort, our broadband initiative has been successful in engaging our rural communities consistently, in ways that other levels of government may be limited.
What words of encouragement would you give to community leaders working to improve broadband access?
Community leaders are on the front-line of bringing broadband home to your citizens, businesses, schools, churches, non-profits and social networks. In rural areas, trusted local community leaders have unique communication roles as advocates for your citizens. I encourage community leaders to stay engaged with the state-wide broadband community, as there is much to learn from them. Networking at county and state levels is vital to making your voices and needs heard. The MN Office of Broadband Development, the MN Broadband Coalition, the Blandin Foundation and its Blandin on Broadband Blog, local internet providers, news services, and our tech-savvy citizens all offer inspiration and ideas to communities seeking better broadband. As our friend, Bill Coleman, says, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”! To confront the challenge of “return on investment” by broadband providers, partner with others to enhance your local broadband market. Join in feasibility studies, conduct broadband-interest surveys or petitions, and make your local case to internet providers. Be patient, as broadband projects are expensive and take time to justify and build. Internet providers are looking for willing and enthusiastic customers, so you must show them that your community has a ready market. Keep the drum beat going!