Broadband expansion underway in Minnesota

A $4.7 million grant will help broadband reach rural communities.

Andrea Schug

Tuesday marked the first of many planning sessions to come between the partners involved in the statewide effort to expand the use and knowledge of broadband Internet. The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Thursday that the Blandin Foundation would receive a $4.7 million grant in order to reach out to rural communities throughout the state of Minnesota. The Blandin Foundation, based in Grand Rapids, Minn., works to strengthen rural communities, focusing much of their effort toward improvement of rural economies. âÄúI was very optimistic from the beginning because of the scale and scope of resources we have in this state that could really benefit from it,âÄù Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation director of public policy and engagement, said. The grant will be completed within three years and will be a combined effort of 19 partners with specializations ranging from the physical installation of Internet in businesses to the refurbishing of computers to give to low-income families. One organization playing a role in this effort is the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, whose goal is to build local leadership, social capital and choices about local economies, Assistant Director Joyce Hoelting said. The expansion of Internet access throughout the state has been an important issue to the Extension Center for Community Vitality since the 1980s, Associate Dean Dick Senese said. âÄúBroadband plays a huge role in the global market and can really enhance the quality of life in Minnesota when used efficiently,âÄù Senese said. When President Barack Obama announced the stimulus plan in February 2009, the Blandin Foundation became aware that $7.2 billion would be available to support the broadband expansion effort, Joselyn said. Shortly after this announcement, the foundation decided they wanted to play a role in helping rural Minnesota benefit from the pool of money available for this effort. In spring 2009, they announced they would be looking for partners to help. The Blandin Foundation submitted their application for federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program funding in August and were notified in February that their proposal had passed through initial review. They spent the following weeks working with the Department of Commerce and answering questions about the budgeting details of their plan. After Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., made the announcement Thursday that the Blandin Foundation would receive the grant, the project went into full force. âÄúDesigning and implementing a broadband future for Minnesota that is truly competitive is going to take many hands,âÄù Blandin Foundation spokeswoman Allison Ahcan said. âÄúItâÄôs very helpful to have a shared vision for the future and exciting that so many people want to play a part.âÄù The Extension Center for Community Vitality has been working with businesses, nonprofits and individuals to help them better understand how they can make use of the broadband thatâÄôs already available to them and looks forward to expanding that effort, Senese said. âÄúI recently heard someone say, âÄòaccess denied is opportunity denied,âÄô and I think the University is all about opportunity,âÄù Joselyn said.