Community leaders in Region 5 added their voices and perspectives to a statewide conversation on rural Minnesota’s best opportunities to advance broadband access and use. This week’s virtual Building on Broadband: Inspiring Progress conference brought together broadband champions from across the state to share ideas, make connections, and strategize together on how to prepare for the biggest infusion of federal broadband funding ever available. The conference was hosted by Blandin Foundation with support from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, Growth & Justice, Collectivity, and Lead for Minnesota.
This year’s conference featured a three-day report out with themes from eight regional broadband meetings held from August to October 2021. The regional meeting was held on September 30th and brought together over 55 people from Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd, and Wadena counties. Top themes, resulting from input and perspectives from more than 300 people across the state, included the need for more local broadband champions, frequent and digestible funding updates for community champions, cross-county coordination and adaptive funding mechanisms that incentivize broadband providers.
“Our five-county region is fortunate to have three telephone cooperatives who are working hard to get fiber to our rural communities and residents. Combining this with federal, state and local funding sources has brought fiber to places like Long Prairie, Wadena and Emily,” stated Dawn Espe, Region Five Development Commission’s Equitable Development Specialist. “There is still much work to be done and having these tele-cos and funding sources working together continues to close the gap on quality broadband access.”
The regional broadband gatherings and statewide conference land at a time when townships, cities and counties are preparing for an unprecedented amount of available funding. From the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to the American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Fund, multiplied with the anticipated passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, there will be millions in broadband investment coming to Minnesota. Coordination of the multiple funding streams and project eligibility are among the top two questions of broadband champions right now.
To learn more about how your community is working for better broadband access and use, visit www.blandinonbroadband.org and view your county’s current broadband profile at https://bit.ly/MNbroadbandprofiles.
All broadband conference sessions and materials are available at www.blandinonbroadband.org.