Why Broadband Is Important To Rural Minnesota!

 Hello, my name is Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. 

The Blandin Foundation is dedicated to strengthening rural Minnesota communities.  That is why we are so focused on the important issue of broadband access and use.  We believe that broadband is the new indispensible infrastructure for healthy rural communities. 

A multi-million dollar federal investment of broadband stimulus dollars has allowed us, in partnership with many others, to deepen this work across the state through the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities project.

Twenty years ago it would have been hard to imagine a successful rural Minnesota community without good roads, sewer and water, schools and hospitals, electricity and telephones. 

Today, broadband infrastructure and services are as important as roads and electricity in connecting rural places to the outside world. Without broadband, it is increasingly harder to conduct business, receive education and health care services, retain our youth, attract entrepreneurs, or stay in touch with friends and families.

Communities today face many challenges: a competitive global marketplace; an aging population; the need for a better-educated and better-prepared workforce; and access to health care.  These issues are all magnified in rural areas by distance, scarce resources and demographics.  The financial resources traditionally available to overcome these challenges are increasingly unavailable to rural communities and regions.  New solutions are required.

Broadband helps community leaders find innovative responses to all of these challenges and opportunities. 

Distance learning, tele-health, and e-commerce are enabled by broadband.  With inadequate broadband infrastructure and services, these solutions are out of reach for rural communities.  Without high-speed broadband, innovators can only dream or move on.  Youth won’t stay or come back.   

Broadband enables entrepreneurship and cost-effective health care, education, and government, and supports our traditional rural industries of agricultural, forestry, mining, tourism and manufacturing. 

Better broadband and the skills to use it also serve as a springboard for new business opportunities, from nano-science to customer service. 

And studies show that technologically-savvy communities enjoy stronger community connections and greater levels of volunteerism and participation in our democratic institutions.

Achieving our broadband vision of a prosperous and just future of economic opportunity and quality of life takes leadership in our communities and institutions.  It takes people who promote technology adoption as indispensible for healthy community.  It takes workers who are ready to implement technology solutions.  And it takes citizens ready to accept and use these new technologies to help us all thrive in place.    

But having robust broadband systems does not guarantee use.  “If you build it they will come” is just not true when it comes to broadband.  Many rural Minnesotans do not have the financial resources or the skills necessary to enjoy the full benefits of broadband technology.  These unconnected Minnesotans are often the people most dependent on government and health care services. 

It is not enough that some places and people within our communities and regions are connected with broadband; all Minnesotans need access to broadband. 

Our experience suggests that only local leadership, vision and hard work can ensure that your community will have this important asset for the future.  We encourage you to work together to ensure that you have the broadband that you need to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world.  If you are in rural Minnesota, we are here to help you in your efforts.

Change happens, but intentional change is optional. You, along with others in your community must lead the way!   

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