Minnesota Awards $26M in Local Broadband Project Grants

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will give money to spur on 39 projects across the state.

by Heather J. Carlson, Post-Bulletin / November 27, 2017

(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:

  • $2 million for Rushford Village/rural Rushford fiber build — AcenTek will install fiber-optic cable to improve broadband levels to a minimum of 1 gigabit per second download and 100 megabits per second upload. It will benefit an estimated 226 unserved households, 20 underserved businesses and two underserved community anchor institutions. Fillmore County is providing a $75,000 loan to the company for the project. Total eligible project cost is more than $5 million with more than a $3 million local match.
  • $606,108 for rural Kasson fiber build — KMTelecom will install fiber optic cable to provide high-speed Internet access to 149 unserved households and nine unserved businesses in Canisteo and Ashland townships, which are located south of Kasson in Dodge County. Internet speeds will be 1 gigabit per second download and 1 gigabit per second upload. Total eligible project cost is more than $1.5 million with a $948,016 local match.
  • $202,125 for Fountain broadband build — Mediacom will leverage its existing hybrid fiber and coaxial network in the city of Fountain in Fillmore County to provide high-speed Internet access to 161 unserved households and 20 unserved businesses. Internet speeds will be 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. Total eligible project cost is $421,094 with a $218,969 local match.
  • $768,600 for Wanamingo broadband improvements — Midcontinent Communications plans to extend high-speed Internet access to 597 unserved households, 76 unserved businesses and four community institutions in the city of Wanamingo in Goodhue County. Internet speed levels will be 1 gigabit per second upload and download. Total eligible project cost is $1.5 million with a $768,000 local match.
  • $411,704 White Rock rural fiber to the premises — New Ulm Telecom will provide high-speed Internet access to 22 unserved households and 88 unserved businesses in the White Rock area in the northern half of Goodhue County. Internet speeds will be 1 gigabit per second download and upload. Total eligible cost is $914,898 with a $503,194 local match.

Push for More Broadband Funding in 2018?

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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