Statewide initiative will help rural communities make more and better use of Internet
GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – The United States Department of Commerce today announced that the Blandin Foundation and 19 coalition partners have been awarded a $4.7 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant on behalf of rural Minnesota communities.
BTOP is one of the stimulus grant programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Through this grant, the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities coalition will bring a network of resources and support to rural Minnesota individuals and communities—especially those unemployed and seeking employment, small businesses, coalitions of government entities, and local leaders.
“Vital rural economies demand connected rural communities,” said Blandin Foundation president Jim Hoolihan. The Blandin Foundation will administer this grant on behalf of the initiative partners. “And right now there is a significant–almost 20 percent–gap between rural and urban home broadband adoption rates.
“In this incredibly fast-paced world of the Internet, one thing is clear: communities that invest in broadband connectivity, a robust knowledge workforce, digital inclusion, innovation and marketing, and advocacy will harness the power of the Internet and overcome barriers of distance. That’s the goal, and the critical work, of this statewide coalition.”
The BTOP grant will be used to leverage resources of coalition partners to extend small business technical assistance and training, expand hours for access to workforce centers, distribute refurbished computers, train individuals and business, create courses for knowledge workers, bring to Minnesota an online network of care for mental health workers, etc.
Eleven communities throughout rural Minnesota also will receive up to $100,000 each to develop and demonstrate broadband projects through the grant. These “demonstration communities” are Benton County, Cook County, Grand Rapids/Itasca County, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Stevens County, Upper Minnesota Valley region, Thief River Falls, Willmar/Kandiyohi County, Winona, Windom and Worthington.
Blandin Foundation submitted in August 2009 the application for federal broadband stimulus funding on behalf of University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, University of Minnesota Crookston, Association of Minnesota Counties and their national counterpart, Network of Care Mental Health, Intelligent Community Forum, Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace, Minnesota Department of Economic Development Workforce Centers, PCs for People and Minnesota’s nine Regional Development Commissions.
Total cost of the coalition’s proposed projects is estimated at more than $6 million. Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities coalition members will contribute $1.3 million in resources as matching funds toward the effort.
A full copy of the MIRC coalition’s application, submitted by applicant organization C. K. Blandin Foundation, and other background materials can be found at the Foundation’s broadband initiative web site: https://blandinfoundation.org/case-studies/minnesota-intelligent-rural-communities/