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Stevens County to receive rural broadband grant

Stevens County is among 11 Minnesota communities that will receive up to $100,000 each to improve rural broadband.

The United States Department of Commerce on Thursday announced that the Blandin Foundation has been awarded a $4.7 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant to be used in rural Minnesota communities.

BTOP is one of the stimulus grant programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The BTOP grant will be used to extend small business technical assistance and training, expand hours for access to workforce centers, distribute refurbished computers, train individuals and business, create courses for knowledge workers, and bring to Minnesota an online network of care for mental health workers.

The demonstration communities in rural Minnesota also will receive up to $100,000 each to develop and demonstrate broadband projects through the grant. The communities are Stevens County, Benton County, Cook County, Grand Rapids/Itasca County, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Stevens County, Upper Minnesota Valley region, Thief River Falls, Willmar/Kandiyohi County, Winona, Windom and Worthington.

Through the grant, the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities coalition will bring a network of resources and support to rural Minnesota individuals and communities, especially those unemployed and seeking employment, small businesses, coalitions of government entities, and local leaders.

Blandin Foundation president Jim Hoolihan said that, currently, there is almost a 20 percent gap between rural and urban home broadband adoption rates.

"Advocacy will harness the power of the Internet and overcome barriers of distance," Hoolihan said. "That's the goal, and the critical work, of this statewide coalition."

In August 2009, Blandin Foundation submitted the application for federal broadband stimulus funding.

Total cost of the coalition's proposed projects is estimated at more than $6 million. Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities coalition members will contribute $1.3 million in resources as match toward the effort.