Stirring the Pot: Preparing for MN Broadband Grant applications

As originally posted in Blandin on Broadband eNews...

Thanks to the good work of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition and politicians keeping their promises, there is $40 million of funding coming through DEED Office of Broadband Development for grants to be distributed over the two year budget.  As a result, many community leaders are now asking “how do we get some of that?”

For most communities, there is a lot of work to do between asking that simple question and receiving a broadband grant.  That work starts with these hard questions:

  1. What infrastructure will deliver the broadband services that we will require to thrive over the next 10 to 20 years?
  2. Will we be content to incrementally improve broadband services with better, but not great, broadband speeds and more, but not ubiquitous, broadband coverage?
  3. Who do we want as a long term broadband partner?

There will be strong opinions on these questions but you must develop your community’s own answers to these critical questions.   By working hard upfront on your community’s broadband vision,  you can avoid being whipsawed back and forth between various technology and provider options.

Blandin Foundation has two resources to assist communities as they pursue better broadband service.  First, 32 hours of technical assistance can be obtained through the Community Broadband Resources (CBR) program. The purpose of this program is to help your community get organized and education and to discuss the three questions above.

The second program is the Robust Network Feasibility Fund program which is a grant of up to $25,000 (1:1 cash match required) that allows communities to refine their options for the development of broadband project and partner alternatives.

Information for both programs can be found at broadband.blandinfoundation.org . There is no application deadline for CBR; the next deadline for feasibility fund grants is June 14.

In my experience, communities that skip or shortchange the discussion facilitated through CBR are unprepared to effectively direct their feasibility study consultants towards a desired outcome.  The result is an ambiguous study and a fractured community vision.  My advice: do the vision work up front and then pursue that vision with fierce determination.  Good luck!

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