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Walz announces $23M for expanding rural broadband statewide

Associated Press

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announces 30 new Border-to-Border broadband grants during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 in St. Paul, Minn. The grants will provide access to reliable, high speed internet to more Minnesotans in underserved and unserved areas of the state. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota is awarding more than $23 million in grants to 30 projects throughout the state to help bring high-quality broadband access to underserved and unserved parts of the state, Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday.

“Fast, reliable broadband access is a critical economic development tool that improves quality of life and makes businesses in Greater Minnesota more competitive,” Walz said in a statement. “These grants help us get closer to our goal to ensure that every Minnesotan has high-speed internet access by 2022.”

The governor’s office said the projects, which will be funded by the Department of Employment and Economic Development and local matching funds, will provide fast, reliable internet access to more than 10,900 businesses, homes, and community institutions.

Gaining high-speed service has long been a priority for communities throughout rural America. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs rural development programs across the country, will start taking applications Jan. 31 for $550 million in broadband aid this year.

“You simply can’t participate in the innovation sector — or almost any sector of the economy today, for that matter — without high speed access to the internet,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in the governor’s statement. “These grants help us reach that last mile of service in Minnesota and our goal to be a model state where you don’t have to move to a metro area to participate in the 21st century economy.”

The agriculture budget bill that Walz signed last year included $40 million in one-time funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program in 2020 and 2021. DEED received requests for $70 million for 80 projects during the latest application round. This is the fifth year of the program. The new grants bring the number of homes and businesses gaining broadband access through the program since 2014 to 49,900.

The state’s goal is that by no later than 2022, all businesses and homes should have access to high-speed broadband with minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second, with the targets rising by 2026 to download speeds of at least 100 megabits and upload speeds of at least 20.

The new grants range from $2.9 million for a project that will bring broadband to farms in Houston and Winona counties of southeastern Minnesota to $42,921 to bring gigabit speeds to previously unserved Miltona Township in Douglas County of western Minnesota.

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