Two years ago the Blandin Foundation received nearly $5 million in federal stimulus money to get more Minnesotans to make use of the Internet. The foundation picked 11 communities and worked intensely with leaders in those places to come up with scores of projects,
some simple, some not.
The city of Foley built a website to let residents conduct more business online, like making payments and finding utility information.
The Grand Marais public library added laptops to its equipment.
The Stevens County Historical Society is providing its collections and more than 20,000 photos from its archives online.
In Nobles County, the Integration Collaborative is buying a wireless access point in a learning center that serves many immigrant families.
As that money is spent and the project winds down, Blandin today announced the selection of nine more communities it will work with in the coming two years, part of a plan to spend $1.5 million of its own money to accomplish similar results.
The nine recipients of the project are:
Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa
Itasca Economic Development Corporation
Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services
Lake of the Woods County Economic Development Agency
Lac qui Parle Valley School District
Mille Lacs County
Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
The nine vary in how available high-speed Internet access is for residents and they vary in how “ready” residents are to make use of the Internet in education, government services, health care and communication. Residents in Lake and Lac qui Parle counties, for example, and in the Jackson County area served by Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services, are going to benefit from fiber connections that federal stimulus money is paying for. Others, like Lake of the Woods County in the far north, feel like they’re just beginning.
All the agencies involved in the nine communities went through a bidding process and Blandin made the selection based on needs and readiness.
“Broadband is a community imperative,” Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation chief executive officer, said in a press release. “Vibrant, resilient communities depend on abundant and robust access to the Internet, and the digital literacy skills necessary for everyone to take full advantage of this access.”
As with the earlier project, what happens next is Blandin will help residents in the nine chosen places settle on the specific efforts they think their communities need. It’s a process that forces local leaders to come to the table with ideas and resources of their own.
At this point, their goals range from getting more businesses online to workforce development to helping students take fuller advantage of technology to getting better access for tribal members who live in remote areas of reservations.
“We want our community to dictate how it should be used,” said Fred Underwood, information services director for Fond du Lac.
“We’ve been doing broadband work for 10 years and know that communities have to tackle themselves the tough issues related to broadband access and use–there is no substitute for local leadership,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of Blandin Foundation’s broadband initiatives.