The Blandin Foundation has been involved in broadband initiatives since 2003 but in 2010 our involvement took a new turn that helped us bring broadband expansion to a new level with MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities), which received almost $5 million from the NTIA to work with 11 communities to create local broadband adoption programs. Because our plan was so grassroots oriented we didn’t have a roadmap – instead we had a list of strong partners at the table to create that roadmap. It was exciting and hopeful and a little scary. It was a leap of faith on everyone’s part and we are so thankful for the partners we gathered and the enthusiasm and wisdom they brought to the table.
We had reason to reflect again on the MIRC project recently when the NTIA released a report that feature an extensive look at the MIRC project. Here’s an excerpt from the press release…
The third case study  released today examines the C.K. Blandin Foundation , a private foundation that serves rural Minnesota, especially its home area in Grand Rapids. Foundation officials realized early that broadband access was a key enabling factor in promoting and preserving rural communities, and applied for a BTOP grant to carry out a multifaceted program called “Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities.” Using a model adapted from the Intelligent Community Forum , 11 local communities and nine partners assessed their own broadband needs and engaged a wide spectrum of community members in planning how to meet those needs. Additionally, since broadband adoption was the focus of this grant, C.K. Blandin staff engaged other partners with expertise in economic development, health care and social services. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development developed a user-driven, scenario-based curriculum for digital literacy, funded by the foundation, which was delivered in 30 work force centers throughout the state and translated in to Spanish and Somali. The project increased broadband subscriptions in rural areas by more than 56,000 households and helped revitalize participating rural communities. As one local business owner commented, “We’ve turned a corner and become a community that’s actually growing and thriving instead of stagnant and dying.”
We are proud of the work we created collectively – the increase in adoption, increase in job, increase in skills – but we’re most proud of the connections that have been made in the local communities – the roadmaps that we’ve made together continue to be modified and used in the MIRC communities and in new communities through the Blandin Broadband Communities initiative. Broadband is expanding in the state as we build better networks online and off.