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Blandin Community Broadband Program: A Look Back At Impact

After twenty years of working with rural communities to build broadband-powered, future-forward communities, there’s one thing we know to be true – it all comes down to local leadership!

Strong, dynamic networks of leaders, forged across geographies, sectors and ideologies, have come together over the decades with the aspiration of bringing border-to-border broadband to Minnesota. Behind every network built, every connection made, are hundreds of rural Minnesota leaders who have put in countless hours door knocking, holding meetings and trainings, and deal-making to make this moment happen. Historic resources are coming to our small towns and Minnesota is ready because of trove of local leadership across the state. We’re honored to have played a supporting role in Minnesota’s broadband story.

The Blandin Community Broadband Program (BCBP) was created to boost rural leaders’ ability to pull together diverse action teams, collaboratively set a broadband-powered technology vision for their community and have access to knowledge partners and resources to work toward that vision. When BCBP began in 2003, 27 percent of surveyed Minnesota households reported having broadband and awareness of broadband’s potential impact was just starting to grow. Today, 62.46 percent of rural Minnesota households have access to wireline broadband at 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload; 94.97 percent has access to wireless broadband. Advocates no longer need to build the case that broadband is essential. There’s agreement from decisionmakers at every level and ideology that broadband access and the skills to use it are critical to the future survival of rural places.

These victories are made up of many smaller wins along the way; people, programs and providers who stepped up to move rural Minnesota places forward. The timeline below explores some of the milestone moments in our broadband programming, and in Minnesota’s broadband story, that helped us collectively realize our broadband vision – Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

2002

Public Policy and Engagement Department is created.

2003

Trustees approve Broadband Initiative launch.

Blandin Broadband Strategy Board is created to provide strategic guidance, counsel and quality control to the Blandin Community Broadband Program.

2004

Published A Community Guide to Broadband Development to help community leaders, public officials and economic development professionals decide how to take advantage of the opportunities created by broadband technology.

Blandin Foundation convenes its first broadband conference, Blandin Broadband Initiative: Keeping Rural Communities Competitive.

Facebook is created.

2005

Blandin Broadband Strategy Board approves Broadband Vision and Principles for Minnesota.

2006

Twitter is created.

2007

The State of Minnesota, through the Office of the Attorney General, grants Blandin $750,000 to advance broadband adoption in southwest Minnesota, the service area of Alltel. The state recovered the funds from Alltel as public benefit compensation in an anti-trust settlement to mitigate consumer harm resulting from Alltel’s acquisition of Midwest Wireless Broadband.

Blandin on Broadband Blog is created to share information about broadband with Minnesotans working for better access and use.

2009

Economic Development Association of Minnesota (EDAM) recognizes with a special award Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Initiative for the contributions it has made to broadband adoption across the state.

2010

Minnesota legislature adopts the state’s first broadband speed goal of 20 megabits per second download and 5-10 megabits per second upload by 2015.

Instagram is created.

2010

Blandin Foundation is awarded $4.8 million from the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) for the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) Program, delivered in partnership with nineteen statewide partners and eleven “Demonstration Communities:” Benton County, Cook County, Grand Rapids Area, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Stevens County, Thief River Falls, Upper MN Valley RDC, Willmar, Windom, Winona, Worthington.

Blandin Foundation adopts the Intelligent Communities Forum Model of community broadband development into its programs.

2010

Produced a video showcasing how three rural Minnesota communities worked toward achieving their broadband goals.

The United States Federal Communications Commission releases the National Broadband Plan.

Community Milestones: Lake County receives American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to build Fiber to the Home. Arrowhead/Cook and Lake County, and Lac qui Parle County got ARRA second round funding.

2011

Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and development at Blandin Foundation, and three other members of Blandin Broadband Strategy Board are appointed by the Governor to serve on the state’s Broadband Task Force.

2012

Blandin Foundation Trustees designate $1.5 million over two years to continue Broadband Initiative.

Blandin Foundation receives Tekne Award for the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities work.

2013

Blandin Broadband Communities Program (BCBP) cohort I launches (2013-2014): Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Itasca Area, Kanabec County, Lac qui Parle Valley School District, Lake County, Lake of the Woods County, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs County, and Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.

MN Office of Broadband Development is created to help Minnesotans understand broadband options available and work together to improve availability and use of high-speed internet services.

2014

Blandin Foundation Trustees designate $1.5 million over two years to continue the Blandin Community Broadband Program.

Minnesota Office of Broadband Development awards first Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grants.

Community Milestone: Rock County receives a Border-to-Border Grant to bring fiber to almost all of the County.

2015

Blandin Broadband Communities Program cohort II launches (2015-2016): Carlton County, Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota), Chisago County, Martin County, Nobles County, Redwood County, Red Wing, Renville/Sibley Counties, Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota), and Sherburne County.

Blandin Foundation Broadband team convenes founding meeting of what becomes the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.

2016

Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County fund Blandin to bring the Blandin Community Broadband Program to six Iron Range communities: Aitkin County, Bois Forte Reservation/Cook/Orr, Chisholm, Ely, Hibbing, and Mt. Iron-Buhl.

Minnesota Legislature updates the state’s broadband goals to 1) 25 megabits per second download (Mbps) and 3 Mbps upload by 2022 and 2) 100/20 Mbps by 2026 for all Minnesota businesses and homes.

2017

PP&E partners with the nascent Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition to design and host the state’s first “Broadband Day on the Hill” event for rural broadband advocates.

Blandin Foundation publishes a set of case studies looking at the value of broadband based on its collective economic impact in a community.

Community Milestone: RS Fiber offers services in Renville and Sibley Counties.

2018

IRRRB awards Blandin Foundation a second contract to fund four additional Iron Range Broadband Communities (IRBCs) and to fund additional broadband grants in the six alumni communities.

The four new Iron Range Communities are: East Range Joint Powers, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, Tower Economic Development Authority, and Iron Range Tourism Bureau.

2018

Blandin Foundation selects four additional Blandin Broadband Communities: Cannon Falls (school district), Koochiching Technology Initiative, Rock County, and Swift County.

Blandin Foundation publishes a report looking at two projects funded through Connected America Funding (CAF II) to raise the issue of effective public funding for broadband access.

90.77% of Minnesota households have access to broadband at the 2022 state speed goal of 25/3 Mbps. 74.11% have access at the 2026 goal of 100/20 Mbps.

2019

Blandin Foundation led a delegation of rural Minnesota broadband champions to the Intelligent Community Forum Global Summit in New York City.

In conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the Blandin Community Broadband Program, Courageous Leadership Awards were awarded to 12 individuals, organizations and communities to celebrate the impact made through early and sustained leadership in rural broadband access and use.

2020

Four statewide BBCs selected, with $25,000 in funding support from West Central Initiative Foundation: Chisago Lakes Area, Le Sueur County, Otter Tail County, White Earth Nation.

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition holds fourth annual Broadband Day on the Hill, one of the last in-person events before the state shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020

The annual broadband conference was held entirely online via Zoom during the month of October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand began week 1 with three hours in programming over three mornings, continued with two optional sessions per day for another two weeks, and ended week 4 with another three hours of programming over three mornings. The online format allowed for higher profile speakers, including Thomas Friedman of the NY Times.

2020

Staff and IRRR began work on the third iteration of the partnership – the Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) initiative. AIR used the Intelligent Community framework to identify and implement projects across the Arrowhead Region in 2021-22.

Phase 1 – concluded May 2021 with $224,950 in grants awarded to AIR projects. Phase 2 – concluded November 2021 with $260,000 in grants awarded to AIR projects.

2021

Community Broadband Resources (CBR): Accelerate! program is launched. The program provides convening and consultant resources for communities to increase rural leaders’ ability to stimulate broadband infrastructure investments in their communities.

Cohort I communities included Aitkin County, Kanabec County, Pine County, and Mille Lacs Tribal Economy. Cohort II communities included Benton County, Todd County, Cloquet Area and Redwood County.

2021

Blandin receives $560,000 from The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation to fund six new Blandin Broadband Communities for 2021-2023. BBC’s selected: Warroad Area, Mahnomen County, Pine County, Big Stone County, Lincoln County, and Austin Area.

2022

CBR: Accelerate! Cohort II concludes the end of February. Accelerate! alumni steering committees continue to be actively engaged with their county and city leadership and potential provider partners to advance their newly formulated broadband vision and workplan.

Goal year for Minnesota to get to ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25/3 megabits per second.

91.86% of Minnesota households have access to broadband at the 2022 state broadband speed goal of 25/3 Mbps. 88.07% of Minnesota households have access to broadband at the 2026 state broadband speed goal of 100/20 Mbps.

2022

Blandin Broadband Strategy Board holds its final meeting and approves a final round of Blandin Broadband Grants.

2023

The final Blandin Broadband Communities Cohort concludes, marking the end of the Blandin Community Broadband Program.

Broadband Resources

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