Expanding Broadband Access to the Last Rural Mile
The Resilient Region plan prioritized the need for increased connectivity to adequate, affordable broadband as crucial for retaining and attracting both businesses and residents, improving efficiencies and quality in education and health care, and alleviating problems of workforce shortage. “People are interested in staying and/or moving to the rural communities in the region. This includes millennials staying in their hometowns or moving in for the small-town way of life for themselves and their children, and baby boomers making their lake homes permanent residences. A crucial factor is that they need to have broadband, “echoed Brainerd hometown millennial Staci Headley, R5DC Regional Planner.
Many R5DC's residents live in "last rural mile" communities and farming communities that are "underserved" and “unserved” due to factors that go into making broadband work both technically and economically feasible for those who provide it and those who buy it.
Multiple organizations have supported broadband expansion. The Blandin Foundation supported the Resilient Region’s Virtual Highway Task Force as a Blandin Broadband Community. National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) regional purchasing alliance cooperative invested over $200,000 in the past years in engineering needed for grant applications and coordination of other activities by the Virtual Highway Task Force, a subgroup within the Resilient Region Connectivity theme area.
With the initial 4.2 million investments (2014 – 2015) from grants R5DC co-wrote with CTC and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), along with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development Investment of $3 million, a total of $7.72 million has been invested in the region to expand broadband infrastructure.
Connectivity to the last rural mile initiatives (January, 2016) have expanded broadband high speed access to 891 households, giving residents the ability to connect for telework, telehealth, and online learning, and strengthening broadband infrastructure for future growth. One hundred twenty-two low income families also have improved computer and internet skills.