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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Nearly $100M in grants will fund broadband expansion in rural Minnesota, Walz says

Almost $100 million will be allocated to rural broadband projects in Minnesota as the state works to connect the remaining 200,000 homes to high-speed internet.

On Thursday, the office of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said that the $99.6 million in state and federal financing for internet via the Border-to-Border Broadband initiative is the “biggest single investment” in Minnesota’s history. According to projections made by the state’s administration of the program, which is housed in the Department of Employment and Economic Development, an extra 33,000 homes, mostly in rural regions, would get access to high-speed internet as a result of the initiatives.

“Broadband is the plumbing of the 21st century – without it, companies and families can’t participate in today’s economy,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove stated in a press statement. We’re excited to partner with internet providers to give these groundbreaking awards, which will enable more economic expansion and greater social justice throughout the state.

High-speed internet is gradually becoming a need as remote work, education, and healthcare become the norm. Those living in remote areas, who may not have ready access to medical facilities, may benefit greatly from telehealth services. Even while most people have access to more populated places, there are still substantial gaps in more remote locations. According to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DEED), there are between 240,000 and 291,000 homes in the state that do not have internet access. Grove estimated that 92% of the state of Minnesota had internet access and that with the help of additional government funding, the remaining 8% will soon have access.

Grove has said that the broadband problem is high on Walz’s agenda and that it is time for the state to “complete the job.” However, as more and more of the state become connected to fast internet, the remaining places are the hardest to access.

Broadband internet service is difficult to get to some of the more remote areas of our state, so “with every percent we move closer to complete coverage, it becomes a little bit tougher,” Grove said. “The market has to address geographical and commercial considerations to guarantee that this is profitable for enterprises. And that’s why our broadband initiative is so crucial.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided $70 million in financing for broadband awards to 61 projects in 48 counties throughout Minnesota. According to Governor Walz’s administration, another major contributor is a $50 million allocation from the Legislature.

According to Grove, the $99.6 million released last Thursday is only the first round of broadband awards, and his department will start accepting applications for the next phase of broadband financing on December 19. Additional state financing of $25 million and $42.6 million in federal cash will be available for that cycle.

Almost all of the money dispersed by the Border-to-Border Broadband initiative has come from the current round of awards. Since its inception in 2014, Grove claims the program has distributed almost $130 million.

St. Louis County, located in the state’s far northeast, will get about $7.9 million for two separate projects, more than any other county. More than $4.8 million will go to Consolidated Telephone Co., which provides service to both Cass and St. Louis counties.

Aitkin, Beltrami Benton, Carlton, Crow Wing, Dodge, Douglas, Kandiyohi, Marshall, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Pope, and Wilkin are some of the other Minnesota counties having active projects.

Recipients of these grants may get up to $5 million each to pay up to 50% of the total project expenditures. The state has set a target for internet speeds in 2026 of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload and any expansion projects must reach or surpass those speeds.

If Minnesota resident has concerns about their internet connection speed or availability, Bree Maki, director of the state’s Office of Broadband Development, suggests that they contact their ISP directly. The DEED website has further details about the funds, including a full list of awardees.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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