Blandin Foundation has awarded 29 grants totaling $321,245 to support rural Minnesota communities as they grow high-speed Internet access and use in their communities.

In a joint venture, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar will host a “hackfest,” bringing together technology enthusiasts and professionals to build stronger connections, encourage cooperation and collaboration on identifying and addressing technology needs in the area.

Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, Long Lake Township and Mille Lacs County all will launch feasibility studies to research the possibilities of bringing broadband to their communities.

Also receiving their first round of grants are nine previously designated Blandin Broadband Communities (BBCs): Carlton County, Central Woodlands (parts of Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Pine, and Aitkin counties), Chisago County, Martin County, Redwood County, Red Wing, Renville/Sibley Counties, Resilient Region 5 (Cass, Wadena, Crow Wing, Todd and Morrison counties), and Sherburne County.

Named in November 2014, these BBCs have convened leadership teams that will lead a two-year project to make the best use of information and services that broadband can deliver.

BBC projects are focused in a number of areas, including:

Education

• Preparing our Next Generation (Red Wing): engage and expose students to needed technology skills and hands-on experience

• WiFi on Buses (Renville/Sibley Counties): so that students can use bus time productively and provide connectivity for students who do not have Internet at home.

Economic Development

• Tech Center Marketing and Planning Project (Renville/Sibley Counties): determine the feasibility, market demand, and next steps in the development process.

• Technology Training for Businesses (Chisago County): Assist businesses in increasing their customer base and provide efficiencies through the use of Internet based technologies and applications.

• Sherburne County Broadband Coalition Outreach (Sherburne County): build momentum for better broadband across Sherburne County.

Digital Literacy

• Computer Training Station at Depot Commons (Central Woodlands): upgrade computer work stations and provide a one-on-one training environment for residents and businesses in the Mille Lacs Lake area.

Health and Wellness

• Telehealth Development and Implementation (Resilient Region): provide seven tele-health training sessions on topics like reimbursement basics, Medicare guidelines, equipment demonstrations and process excellence tools.

“For rural communities to thrive in a digitally-connected world, all hands need to be on deck,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, Blandin Foundation CEO. “Minnesota’s rural leaders such as these are rallying their communities to bring home the benefits of broadband for every community member. Blandin Foundation is privileged to be able to support the vision and commitment of community partners who understand that broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of our time, and are doing the hard work of helping their communities thrive in the new digital age.”

Since making rural broadband use and access a focus in 2003, Blandin Foundation has partnered with leaders in more than 60 communities and 80 organizations across the state.

“It is increasingly clear that ultra-fast, next-generation Internet networks are necessary to building and sustaining thriving communities,” said Blandin Foundation Public Policy and Engagement Director Bernadine Joselyn. “Broadband networks help enable accessible and affordable healthcare, world-class educational opportunities, and effective and efficient public safety. These networks don’t build themselves. Nor do the skills and culture needed to use these twenty-first century tools just appear automatically. Community leadership is key.”

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