Rural Minnesota voices lead national conversation on Internet adoption

Posted in Broadband, Vibrant Rural

Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation, joins Aaron Smith (Pew Research Center), David Cohen (Comcast Corporation), Sunne Wright McPeak (California Emerging Technology Fund), and The Honorable John Sununu (Broadband for America) at the U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on broadband adoption

Today we welcome Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation’s Director of Public Policy. Bernadine recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify at a Senate subcommittee hearing on broadband adoption. Here, she reflects on her experience.

“How are we doing?”  Everyone in the change business asks themselves that question. We’re always on the lookout for evidence that our hard work is making a positive difference in the communities we care about. But it’s not always easy to tell, because change is incremental and takes time.  So it was really gratifying to get an unexpected call from the chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee asking us to come to D.C. to share our experience in helping communities maximize the benefits of broadband connectivity and use.

The Commerce Committee’s sub-committee on broadband wanted to hear about “best practices,” he said, and Blandin Foundation was at the top of their list. My job was to share the passion, commitment, and vision of rural community leaders all across our state who are at the forefront of this work.  I told the Senators: local leadership matters – nothing happens without community champions; communities know best – involve them in visioning and implementation of project ideas; and, this work takes all of us working together over the long haul.  I am hopeful that the stories I got to share of the positive difference we together are making in the rural places we love will encourage our federal lawmakers to continue public support for this important work.

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Among the communities highlighted in her testimony, Bernadine described how Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe now provides temporary workers with training in online job search skills and expanded computer access. The city of Thief River Falls launched a collaboration between local broadband providers and a nonprofit to supply refurbished computers and support to low-income families.  Akeley built a series of peer-led technology workshops.  Winona created digital literacy training in Hmong and Spanish for recent immigrants.  A consortium of school districts in Stevens County developed broadband-based distance learning services for students with disabilities.  Itasca Area Schools Collaborative has built telepresence facilities that reduce the challenge of distance for students.

The stories of rural Minnesota’s broadband leaders resounded in an op-ed by Blandin Foundation president Kathy Annette that ran in The Hill’s Congress Blog. In it, she commends rural Minnesota for taking risks that keep us competitive in the global economy.

“Minnesota arguably leads the country in rural broadband adoption, despite spotty access. Why? Because we have knit together whatever resources available—partnerships, money, leadership—to get the job done. We have no interest in being left behind by a global economy. Our children have the same desires to learn and be successful as children anywhere. By tackling broadband, we can connect to the world and still live in the places we love and call home. And we do whatever we can to get the job done.”

Watch Bernadine’s testimony (at 36:36) and tell us below how your rural community is utilizing broadband technology.