Blandin Foundation announced recently that it has awarded 11 grants totaling $483,090 that assist rural Minnesota communities in advancing high-speed Internet access and use in their communities. Among these, the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC), in partnership with Chippewa, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone and Yellow Medicine counties, will benefit from grant funding to map existing Internet technologies and explore possibilities for increasing Internet access.

The six participating counties have elected to collaborate for not only economic benefits pertaining to the cost of the study, but also to ensure that county lines do not limit any projects that result. “We like to say at the Foundation, ‘Change follows relationship lines at the speed of trust,’” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement. “It’s fantastic that so many partners in southwest Minnesota have come together to explore what they can do together that they couldn’t do alone.”

To prepare for the feasibility study, Chippewa and Yellow Medicine Counties engaged the Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Develop-ment Commission to conduct several listening meetings to hear stories and concerns about existing broadband access. Based on expressed needs, an engineering firm will study three different scenarios for bringing fiber to the counties: 1) build fiber to every part of each county that is not covered adequately, 2) build a fiber-fed wireless network, and 3) look to see if there are any public/private partnership options that add value to the project.

The grants funds received from the Blandin Foundation will provide the impetus to get the project going in Chippewa County. This is a very important project for Chippewa County. There will be a need for many volunteers moving forward to assist in the implementation of this project. For each scenario, the cost of the network will be quantified, revenue streams will be identified and an implementation plan will be created. “Today’s rural leaders know that for their communities to reach their fullest potential, they need a strong Internet connection,” said Blandin Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette. “We are thrilled to see six counties in southwest Minnesota collaborating to bring the promise of the Internet to their residents. We are honored to stand with them as they pave the way to a broadband-enabled future.”