Blandin’s broadband work has been called out as best practice (page 5) in White Paper from Hull Fellows Capstone: Bridge to Everywhere: Practical Considerations for Philanthropy for Expanding Broadband Access in Rural Communities – a guide for philanthropic organizations interested in narrowing the digital divide, or the gap between those with internet access and those without, in rural communities…
Several positive examples of philanthropic organizations doing highly effective work to help close the digital divide in rural communities stand out. The Blandin Foundation and the Benedum Foundation have funded notable work in rural Minnesota and West Virginia, respectively. Because broadband infrastructure is so expensive and ISPs require federal subsidies, the core of both foundations’ approach is helping communities access federal funding for locally driven initiatives. There are many potential options philanthropic organizations can pursue:
Convening support for community stakeholders – Creating and executing locally driven initiatives at the community level. Helping communities pull the right people and groups together to come up with a plan is often the right starting point. Providing funding for a community or region to hire a broadband coordinator is another opportunity for support.
Funding for feasibility studies, engineering assessments and creating accurate coverage maps – These are all necessary steps that must be taken prior to accessing federal funding for broadband and they can often carry significant costs.
Support for grant writing and other technical assistance – Federal funding is spread across multiple agencies and application processes are extremely complicated. Foundations can provide assistance by hiring grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding if that capacity doesn’t exist locally.
Matching funds – Many federal grant opportunities require a cash match of up to 20 percent of the total project cost. Funds committed prior to an application being submitted are especially valuable as they make the applicant seeking federal funding more attractive to reviewers.
Policy & advocacy – Even with unprecedented funding proposed through a federal infrastructure bill, strong advocacy is needed to ensure resources reach rural places. Likewise, advocacy efforts at the state level can ensure that funds appropriated are deployed effectively and equitably.
In addition to funds, philanthropic organizations have social capital that can assist communities as they develop their approaches to expanding broadband access. Funders can host regional meetings to integrate local communities, governments and key stakeholders to learn about and identify potentially synergistic opportunities. Funders can also leverage their extensive networks to make connections to people or organizations with technical expertise (engineering, mapping etc.), grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding mechanisms, ISPs that could participate in public/private partnerships, other private funders, and authorities able to combine local, state, federal and private resources.
Bernadine Joselyn is also quoted…
“It’s not about broadband. It’s about what broadband can do. Broadband is the means to the end… internet access is fundamental to everything philanthropy cares about.”