Rural Minnesota Coalition Awarded Federal Broadband Stimulus Grant
In March, 2010 the United States Department of Commerce 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, which includes the state’s Regional Development Commissions. “And right now there is a significant—almost 20 percent—gap between rural and urban home based 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, 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.
In addition to the above projects that will be for Greater Minnesota as a whole, eleven communities throughout rural Minnesota will receive up to $100,000 each to develop and demonstrate broadband projects through the grant. Kandiyohi County/City of Willmar was one of the eleven communities chosen as a demonstration site.
Blandin Foundation submitted in August 2009 the application for federal broadband stimulus funding on behalf of the 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 the nine Regional Development Commissions.
Total cost of the coalition’s proposed projects is estimated at more than $6 million. The coalition will contribute $1.3 million in resources as matching funds toward the effort. We will continue to post information about this program as we receive news. In May staff of the MMDC shall attend a meeting to learn more about the Commission’s role in helping deliver these projects.
State Rail Plan - The Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan Final Report is completed and may be viewed at: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/planning/railplan/resources.html
Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan - The Minnesota Department of Transportation is now undertaking the development of a Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan, as required by the state legislature (Minnesota Session Laws 2008, Chapter 350, Article 1, Section 67 Minnesota Statute 174.24, Subd. 1a: transit service needs implementation plan.):
“The Commissioner shall develop a transit service needs implementation plan that contains a goal of meeting at least 80 percent of unmet transit service needs in greater Minnesota by July 1, 2015, and meeting at least 90 percent of unmet need transit service needs in greater Minnesota by July 1, 2025. The plan must include, but is not limited to, the following: an analysis of ridership and transit service needs throughout greater Minnesota; a calculation of unmet needs; an assessment of the level and type of service required to meet unmet needs; an analysis of costs and revenue options; and, a plan to reduce unmet transit service needs as specified in this subdivision. The plan must specifically address special transportation service ridership and needs. The plan must specifically address special transportation service ridership and needs. The plan must also provide that recipients of operating assistance under this section provide fixed route public transit service without charge for disabled veterans in accordance with subdivision 7.”
Mn/DOT has selected a consultant for this project. Regional Development Commissions (RDCs) in the state will also be utilized to assist with the preparation of this Greater Minnesota Transit Investment Plan. RDCs will conduct focus group meetings and outreach meetings; provide a demographic profile for their region; identify needs; and conduct other work assignments. The Plan will take approximately one year to complete.