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Minnesota Telecoms to See Record $100M in Broadband Funding

Telecom companies serving five Minnesota counties are set to receive $100 million in federal grants to bring new high-speed Internet to more than 33,000 Minnesota rural homes and businesses.

(TNS) — Telecom companies in five area counties — Brown, Nicollet, Faribault, Le Sueur and Martin — shared in millions of dollars of grants to expand broadband to more areas.

The state, through the Department of Employment and Economic Development, announced Thursday a record $100 million in grants to bring new high-speed Internet to more than 33,000 Minnesota rural homes and businesses.

"This historic funding will dramatically improve broadband access for thousands of Minnesotans," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. "Broadband connects students to new educational opportunities, provides workers with more flexibility, expands access to health care resources and information, and helps us stay connected to the people who matter most."

Bill Eckles, CEO of Blue Earth-based Bevcomm, said the two grants they received will go toward bringing high-speed Internet to farms.

Beginning in the spring, they will start construction on dedicated fiber optic lines to bring 1 gigabit download/upload-speed Internet to 221 locations in Le Sueur County and 373 farms in Faribault and Martin counties.

He said that without public financing assistance, bringing high-speed Internet to rural areas doesn't work.

"If you do the math, it's $9,000 to $10,000 to build per location and you're charging 60 bucks a month, so to do it on your own doesn't work financially. With the (grants) it doesn't make it really profitable, but at least we're not going backwards," Eckles said.

Area grants included Nuvera Communications ($3.8 million) in Brown County; Bevcomm ($1.4 million in Faribault and Martin counties; Bevcomm ($941,576) in Le Sueur County; and Nivera ($479,000) in Nicollet County.

The grants cover 40-50% of the project costs, with the company and sometimes assistance from the county paying for the rest.

In total, 61 broadband expansion projects around Minnesota will receive $99.6 million in grants from the Border-to-Border Broadband program.

"Broadband is the plumbing of the 21st century — without it, businesses and households can't participate in today's economy," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said during a virtual press conference.

He said the new grants represent a significant acceleration of the Border-to-Border Program: Before today, DEED had provided nearly $130 million in Border-to-Border grants to connect more than 57,000 homes and businesses around Minnesota to high-speed Internet since the program's inception in 2014.

Earlier this year, the Governor's Council on Economic Expansion named universal affordable broadband access as one of its priorities for expanding the state's economy.

Half of the grant funding comes from money appropriated by the Legislature and half from federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

DEED will soon launch a new round of requests to award another $67.6 million in grants from state and federal funds.

©2022 The Free Press, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.