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EDC learns county is one of 11 statewide who will receive grant to enhance broadband development

WILLMAR -- Federal money is soon arriving in Kandiyohi County to help enhance the availability and use of broadband, especially for rural and underserved populations.

The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission recently learned the county was chosen as one of 11 demonstration communities to receive funding.

The $100,000 "Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities" grant is for two years and is being funneled through the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Altogether, the state has received $4 million to help boost the use of broadband technology.

"The goal is to enhance broadband use in economic development and community development and build strong rural communities," said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Economic Development Commission.

EDC officials gave an overview of the grant program Thursday to the joint operating board.

Broadband use has grown rapidly in urban and suburban areas but has lagged in the rural United States.

Although rural communities are beginning to catch up, sizable pockets remain where broadband either is used less often or isn't available.

Rural communities that want a strong local economy can't afford to fall behind, said Ron Erpelding, a member of the EDC's operating board.

"Everybody recognizes that if we're going to compete, we need to have br-oadband inclusion," he said.

Recipients of the federal grant money can focus on one or more of several target issues. They can use the money to develop broadband infrastructure in their community. They can use it to do marketing. They can concentrate on innovation or on the development of a broadband-savvy workforce.

The one required element, though, is digital inclusion -- helping make broadband more available to vulnerable populations such as older adults, the poor and the disabled.

"We'll need to figure out where we're going to spend our efforts," Spaulding said. "Those are really broad categories."

One of the first steps will be to create a local steering committee, she said. The EDC's technology committee also will be involved in putting together a plan of action that will include measurable goals.

Kandiyohi County and the 10 other demonstration communities will have some additional resources on which to draw. Some of the federal money also has been distributed to entities such as the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota Workforce Centers and college distance learning programs. Regional development commissions are receiving funds to carry out broadband marketing projects over the next two years as well.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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