Aitkin County receives first Blandin broadband grant

Blandin Foundation announced today 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. Aitkin County will benefit from grant funding to support community efforts to reach technology goals.

Aitkin County was named a Blandin Broadband Community in November 2016, one of six selected for a special cohort on the Iron Range. Made possible with funding support from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St.

Louis County, selected communities embarked on a two-year process to work across sectors and engage the broader community to make the best use of information and services that high-speed internet can deliver.

“Addressing broadband in unserved and underserved areas of northeastern Minnesota is one of the top priorities for the region’s residents, businesses, schools and local units of governments, especially in rural areas,” said IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips. “We’re pleased that partnerships such as this between Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and IRRRB are helping a half dozen communities move forward in implementing creative ideas to increase broadband use and to promote future development.”

Residents came together last winter for a visioning session to name their technology priorities and create project ideas to help meet those priorities. Grant funding from this round will drive those projects forward. They include the following:

Wi-Fi for Palisade and Hill City: wireless Internet hubs will be launched in each community to attract commercial growth, promote connectivity, enhance educational opportunities and allow caregivers and their families to expand their availability to resources/support.

Aitkin County landing page: this webpage will combine information from a number of different sources to be a one-stop destination for area events.

Conference centers in Aitkin, McGregor and Hill City: a conference suite will be created complete with a mobile computer bank, smart boards, technology information centers and Wi-Fi hotspots.

“It is exciting to see so many Aitkin County residents and organizations working together to get these projects funded,” said Ross Wagner, Aitkin County Economic Development and Forest Industry coordinator. “Creating more access to broadband and educational opportunities will benefit the entire county.”

The majority of Aitkin County is unserved, meaning they do not have Internet access that meets the state’s current broadband goal of 25 megabits per second upload and three megabits per second download. As a precursor to project grants, Aitkin County launched an effort to assess the community’s current broadband access and use. This knowledge will contribute to current and future project development.

“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’re honored to stand with Aitkin County leaders as they pave the path to a broadband-enabled future.”

About Blandin Foundation

Blandin Foundation works for vibrant rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all residents. Located in Grand Rapids, it is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota.

Information on Blandin Foundation grant-making, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives may be found at www.blandinfoundation.org1.

Information about the Blandin Broadband Communities Program may be found at broadband.blandinfoundation.org2.


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