The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) awarded $11 million in grants to projects to expand broadband access in 15 Greater Minnesota communities. The announcement came Nov. 20 at the Blandin Foundation’s annual “Border to Border Broadband: Better Together” Conference.
The latest round of broadband grants will improve access to high-speed broadband for 3,222 households, 786 businesses and nearly 90 community institutions throughout the state. Now in its second year, the program’s first round of funding awarded $19.4 million to 17 Greater Minnesota communities in February of this year.
The second largest of these grants (nearly $2 million) was awarded to Itasca County’s Scenic Highway 7 area and will serve the students and families of the Greenway, Grand Rapids, Bigfork, and Nashwauk-Keewatin Schools, reaching about 1,200 households. In August of last summer, Balsam township had a record number of people of all ages attend a packed town hall for a special meeting on possible broadband expansion into the area.
“I am really excited about this project and the positive impact it will have on people’s lives. Students will have access to educational resources, employees will be able to work from home, seniors will be able to stay in their homes longer with telemedicine, and a rural medical clinic will finally get the connectivity it has needed for years,” said Steve Howard, IT Manager at Grand Rapids’ Paul Bunyan Communications.
This funding was awarded under DEED’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which the Legislature appropriated and Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law in 2014. This year, DEED received 44 applications for funding, totaling more than $29 million in requests. Recipients were selected based on an internal review and scoring process.
MREA believes that expanding broadband is rural electrification of the 21st century and will be pursuing additional funding for DEED broadband grants at the Legislature this upcoming session. Expanding rural broadband is a top priority for MREA and can be found in MREA’s 2016 Platform. Gov. Dayton has recently announced he would like to see $100 million of the state’s $1.2 billion dollar surplus be spent on expanding broadband.