(TNS) –– ST. PAUL — High-speed Internet access will soon be available to an additional 1,195 households and 260 businesses in southeast Minnesota thanks to grant funding.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced this week that $26 million in grants had been awarded to 39 broadband projects statewide. Of that money, more than $4.3 million is being used for seven projects in southeast Minnesota.
Approximately 20 percent of Minnesotans lack access to high-speed Internet access that meets the basic state standard of 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the state needs to do more to expand broadband access in Greater Minnesota.
"It is a basic utility of the 21st century. Without it, you can't get your work done, you can't get your school work done, you don't have access to health care. It's not something that is nice to have. It's something that is really necessary to participate in the economy of the 21st century," Smith said.
Among those celebrating the grant announcement was Fillmore County Coordinator Bobbie Vickerman. Two Fillmore County projects — one in Fountain and one in Rushford — made the cut.
"It is exciting — especially for the rural patrons to have that access," she said.
Below is a list of local projects that received funding:
One of the big questions looking ahead is whether lawmakers will invest more in the state's Border-to-Border fund during next year's legislative session. The Legislature approved $20 million for broadband funding this year. The Governor's Task Force on Broadband has recommended $100 million be invested over two years. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton called for a $66 million investment last session.
Demand for the grants is outpacing funding. The state received a total of 70 applications seeking $50 million during the most recent grant cycle.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, authored the jobs budget bill that included the $20 million for broadband funding. He said he is a strong supporter of the state's Border-to-Border broadband program. However, he said lawmakers first need to see the updated budget forecasts to see if there will be extra money available to invest in broadband. Those forecasts project whether the state will have a budget surplus or budget deficit in the coming year.
Miller added, "It's important for folks in rural areas to have high-speed Internet access. Times are changing and Internet access is more important than ever. So think it's critically important that we are investing in getting folks that access."
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