In March, 2010, the Blandin Foundation and 19 project partners were awarded $4.7 million in BTOP funding for Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities or MIRC. The MIRC coalition brings 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.
There are two types of MIRC partners. Project Partners provide services in Minnesota, such as PCs for People, a nonprofit organization that refurbishes used computers with the help of people transitioning off government assistance and passes them on to low income individuals and families who do not own computers.
Through grant funding Project Partners, PCs for People will be able to extend or expand their services – especially to rural areas.
Our other partners, the 11 Demonstration Communities, have each received $100,000 to spend on projects in their areas. Since the project began, these communities have been assessing their technology strengths and evaluating need. This Fall they issued RFPs in their local communities, seeking locally grown projects that expand broadband adoption. “Local answers to local issues” is an important aspect of MIRC success.
The Demo Communities received many more proposals than they were able to fund; so MIRC leaders worked with communities to help encourage collaboration and project refinement. We were pleased to learn at a recent MIRC convening that the Demo Communities have made tough decisions and projects have been selected in each community. Here are some examples:
Stevens County: included in their projects in an effort to put public computers and Wi-Fi hotspots in 5 communities in the county.
Benton County: one project puts computers in the homes of seniors and folks with disabilities helping them connect remotely to health care services, encouraging them to learn how to use computers and staying connected with loved ones.
More stories were shared at MIRC members meeting last week. We also learned about tools that MIRC leadership has been developing for use in and out of MIRC communities, such as the Broadband Toolkit, which compiles a wide range of links organized by sector to help partners in the field answer the question – “what could I do with all of that broadband?”
Our prediction – or at least our hope for 2011 is that people aren’t asking what you can do with broadband – but asking what did we ever do without it?