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Rural communities get nearly $5 million for broadband development

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar announced Thursday $4.8 million to increase broadband access in rural communities across Minnesota.

The funds were awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to fund the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative. The initiative will remove barriers to broadband adoption in Minnesota's 80 rural counties through education, training, and technical assistance.

"As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity - we must now do the same for broadband internet access," said Klobuchar. "This project will ensure that rural communities throughout Minnesota have the training and tools necessary to utilize broadband technology."

The Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative is being launched by the C.K. Blandin Foundation. The initiative is a multi-sector, comprehensive approach to sustainable broadband adoption targeting residents, small businesses, local governments, and critical services providers in rural Minnesota. The project anticipates training as many as 2,500 individuals in computer literacy, online education, and workforce development, and plans to distribute 1,000 affordable refurbished computers to low-income, rural Minnesota residents. Funding will support the development of institutional broadband applications for schools and health care facilities to help increase broadband adoption.

The Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities project also proposes to:

--Partner with the Association of Minnesota Counties and local mental health consortia to develop 10 regional Network of Care Web sites to provide information on local mental health resources.

--Enable 30 Minnesota Workforce Centers to extend the operating hours of their computer centers by eight hours per week and provide additional digital literacy training.

--Promote broadband best practices across economic sectors in 10 demonstration communities. These communities will receive intensive assistance, including funds for four local demonstration projects in each community to support expanding broadband access and adoption.

--Enable e-commerce and broadband training to 2,000 rural small businesses.

Klobuchar serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, which has authority over telecommunications issues.