Almost $20 million in state grants have gone to 17 communities in Minnesota to expand broadband and make the case to legislators (and the general public) that such investments are wise and have a valuable Return on Investment. I wanted to delve into each project a bit to help us follow the money as it gets deployed. I’ll start with some of the communities I know best – the ones who have been involved with Blandin programs at one level of another.
CenturyLink Foley, Benton County–Balkan Township. Awarded $382,883 to build broadband infrastructure to serve 162 unserved households in Foley, Benton County and Balkan Township (near Chisholm in St. Louis County). The full project cost is $995,977. The remaining 62 percent match is to be provided by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) ($230,211 for the Balkan project) and CenturyLink ($382,883).
Community and Economic Development Impact: Rural areas benefit from high- speed broadband connecting home-based businesses. Ten businesses in the project area will have access to increased broadband service. Community institutions including a fire department, community center and town hall, will be connected, as well as connectivity for lifelong learning opportunities.
Benton County was part of the original MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) cohort (2011-2012). Here are a few of the project highlights:
- Built computer lab with assistive technology in the Independent Living, a care facility and opened the facility up to the public.
- Provide training to residents and others in the lab.
- Created a community website called What’s Up in Foley? to promote local businesses.
- Piloted a remote healthcare system that keeps older residents in their homes.
- The provided technology and training in the schools
And just to help track progress, here are some recent stats on Benton County:
On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):
- Household Density: 36.5
- Number of Households: 15,079
- Percentage serviced (without mobile): 63.38%
- Percentage serviced (with mobile): 92.79%
Census quick facts (from 2013):
- Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013: $158,200
- Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013: $24,453
- Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013: 14.5 percent
- Private nonfarm establishments, 2012: 910
- Private nonfarm employment, 2012: 15,528