June 6, 2023

Grant County Herald

Community news from the prairie to the lakes

Broadband infrastructure investment to benefit Grant County

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Reed Anfinson

Publisher

This past Thursday, Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced the largest investment in broadband infrastructure expansion in state history.

Among the 61 projects that will be funded with the $100 million investment is one that will benefit residents of Grant, Traverse, and Stevens counties.

Runestone Telephone Association is receiving a $2,493,637 grant to extend high speed internet connection technology to the City of Herman, as well as Logan and Macsville Townships in the southwest corner of the Grant County.   Eldorado Township in far northwestern Stevens County and a small area of mostly eastern Traverse County will also benefit.

In all, 48 Minnesota counties and 33,000 homes and businesses will see the upgrade to broadband technology.

Broadband technology is seen as essential for rural business expansion as well as the education of the state’s youth. Increasingly, it is critical to rural healthcare.

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021, school students were at times required to work from home. Slow internet connections could often make their at-home work difficult. When blizzards strike and students are stuck at home, high speed internet connections again allow them to keep up with the classes.

“Access to reliable and affordable internet is extremely important in rural Minnesota if we want to compete in the 21st-century digital economy,” District 12 state Sen. Torrey Westrom said. “Broadband is a necessity for economic development, education, health care, remote working options, and more. 

The funding was approved by the state Legislature during the 2022 session. At the time, Republicans controlled the state Senate, but the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controlled the House. After they reached a compromise on the bill, DFL Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law.

In the Senate, Westrom authored the bill authorizing a historic $210 million of funding and several other bills to improve internet access in Greater Minnesota.

Runestone provides telephone, television, and internet services to a large part of Grant County as well as portions of Douglas, Stevens, Pope, and Traverse counties.

“This historic funding will dramatically improve broadband access for thousands of Minnesotans,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “Broadband connects students to new educational opportunities, provides workers with more flexibility, expands access to healthcare resources and information, and helps us stay connected to the people who matter most. This investment is essential to making Minnesota the best state to live, work, and raise a family – no matter where you live.”

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.

“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.

The Governor’s Council on Economic Expansion named universal affordable broadband access as one of its priorities for expanding the state’s economy. The council recommended that state government:

– Ensure every child has access to the internet, appropriate hardware, training and online learning;

– Provide affordable access to broadband internet, appropriate hardware, and training for every person in Minnesota to expand digital equity and access to government services, health care, jobs, community resources, and social connection; and

– Drive economic competitiveness for Minnesota and enable communities throughout the State to attract and retain residents and businesses by providing affordable broadband access.

Today’s investment includes funding primarily from two sources – half of a $50 million appropriation from the state Legislature signed into law this year and $70 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

The grant maximum is $5 million per project, and grant funds may be used to reimburse up to 50% of a grantee’s eligible costs of deploying broadband infrastructure. Projects must meet or exceed the state’s 2026 broadband speed goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

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