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Local leadership drove the creation of Minnesota’s Internet and still does, say early visionaries

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Minnesota’s broadband leaders gathered at the Border-to-Border Broadband Conference in Duluth on Sept. 14 to recognize the work of MRNet, the first organization to bring the Internet to the state. The conference was sponsored by Blandin Foundation with support from the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development. 

The Advancing the Vision Award recognizes the Minnesotans who, 25 years ago, had a vision of creating an information network to enhance research and educational opportunities and to increase productivity and competitiveness of businesses throughout the state.

“Most Internet activity in other states started out in a single university or in state government,” said former MRNet CEO Dennis Fazio. “That did not exist in Minnesota. It was left to the scattered visionaries and engineers of change.

“I see that this is still how our digital cosmos is developing here: not from the top down, but from the energetic and cooperative effort of enthusiasts from all corners.”

“It is because of the visionary leaders like the MRNet pioneers and broadband builders of today that Minnesota is blazing the trail to border-to-border broadband 25 years later,” Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation, told conference participants.

“Our experience, and the state’s history, tells us that in broadband work, leadership matters. These networks don’t just build themselves. It takes hard work, cooperation and perseverance. No one is going to do it for us.”

More than 150 broadband leaders gathered at the conference and shared stories of progress for rural Minnesota, including:

  • RS Fiber – one of the six state Border-to-Border Broadband grantees featured — will bring fiber to the home and farm serving 10 communities and 17 townships in Renville and Sibley Counties by 2022.
  • Community broadband champions in Chisago County discovered through a survey that 31 percent of respondents would start a home-based business if they have better broadband. Building for this future means building with fiber, said Chisago County HRA-EDA Director Nancy Hoffman.
  • Consolidated Telecommunications Company COO Kristi Westbrock said that community broadband champions are an important factor for her company when considering new markets.
  • Paul Bunyan’s GigaZone delivers Gigabit Internet service to nearly 19,000 residents in a large territory across northern Minnesota, the largest gigabit network in rural America. Conference keynote and Paul Bunyan CEO Gary Johnson said of his cooperative’s approach to rural broadband, “We want to be the enablers not the throttle of innovation.”

More highlights of the conference are online at



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