Growing the Cooperative Broadband Movement in Minnesota

Bernadine JoselynFor more than a decade, Blandin Foundation has worked to improve broadband access and use in rural Minnesota. We believe that broadband is the essential 21st Century infrastructure and is required for everything else in which the Foundation is engaged – community economic vitality, education, leadership and advocacy.

Our entire society, urban and rural, is increasingly dependent on broadband – farmers, students, manufacturers, health care providers, small business owners, and retirees. In other words, everyone. Without broadband, rural areas will be left behind, unable to attract or retain the necessary people and investment to sustain vibrant economic activity.

We are supportive of a wide range of options for getting broadband but we have found that what works in metropolitan areas – or even towns isn’t working in the far corners of the state. Large parts of our Minnesota rural countryside are being left behind with inadequate broadband infrastructure and services but we are noticing that cooperatives are starting to fill the gap.

Telephone cooperatives are delivering world-class broadband services over fiber optics in expanded service areas. Electric co-ops are meeting their members’ needs with new fiber and wireless networks. A new multi-county hybrid fiber/wireless co-op, formed as a public-private partnership, is under construction and will be 100% fiber-based within several years.

Blandin Foundation applauds local ownership, patient capital and a focus on community benefits that will drive and sustain rural broadband investment where traditional businesses have difficulty venturing based on the premise of an ROI that suits shareholders. Cooperatives have the management, financial and physical assets to be successful. Many local governments have found cooperatives to be  their best choice for equitable public-private partnerships.

We welcome you to join this conversation at the November 18-20 conference, Border-to-Border Broadband: Better Together in St. Louis Park. Several sessions will focus on the role of cooperatives in broadband development, and all sessions will address the “Why’s and How’s” of rural broadband development. Register here.

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