Tina Smith, Minnesota lieutenant governor, and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) recently announced grants totaling $34 million for 42 broadband infrastructure projects that will provide 16,627 households, 2,240 businesses and 71 community institutions across Minnesota access to reliable, affordable high-speed internet.
Among those selected was Arvig-Redwood County Telephone, which is going to receive $27,998 for middle mile fiber extension in the Morgan area.
The new state funding will help level the playing field for households and businesses in rural Minnesota by providing them access the same opportunities available to urban area residents. Gov. Mark Dayton and Smith secured the $34 million to expand high-speed internet access during the 2016 legislative session.
 The initial proposal was for a $100 million state investment.
“This expansion of broadband that we are announcing today will level the playing field and expand education, health and job opportunities for thousands of Minnesotans. It’s not fair when almost 20 percent of Greater Minnesota households don’t have access to opportunity because they don’t have the same broadband connections as their friends and family in the cities,” said Smith in a recent release. “We are fixing this: since we started, $66 million in public investment has been matched by over $81.7 million in private funding. This expansion of broadband has connected doctors to patients, students to school, people to jobs, and farmers and businesses to data and markets around the world.
Governor Dayton and I will continue to advocate for high speed, affordable, reliable internet access during the 2017 Legislative Session until everyone is connected.”
 Minnesota’s border-to-border broadband development program provides Internet providers grants to expand broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved. The funding pays for up to 50 percent of the cost of developing broadband for improved high-speed internet in communities across the state.
“These grants will make it possible for people, businesses and institutions throughout Greater Minnesota to have access to high-speed internet,” said Shawntera Hardy, DEED commissioner. “Broadband is an important economic development tool that will improve people’s quality of life and make businesses more competitive.”
Dayton and Smith have proposed $151 million in funding to expand affordable, reliable broadband internet access in rural Minn-esota since 2014.
The Dayton-Smith administration has secured a total of $66 million in total for broadband infrastructure expansion.
This funding expanded reliable, afford broadband access to 25,949 households, 3,176 businesses, and 244 community institutions in rural Minnesota. More information about projects funded in 2014 and 2015 can be found on the DEED Web site.
The governor’s task force on broadband, a nonpartisan group charged with analyzing Minnesota’s broadband needs, recommended $100 million in on-going biennial funding for the border-to-border broadband development grant program in its 2016 annual report. In 2015, the task force determined a total investment of at least $900 million is needed to ensure all Minnesotans have broadband internet regardless of where they live.
The Arvig awarded project will serve 15 unserved households and 20 unserved businesses near Morgan.
Arvig–Redwood Telephone will improve service levels to this rural area, which is home to Minnesota’s annual Farmfest and relies on quality broadband service for precision agriculture applications and to monitor crops and livestock. The total eligible project cost is $62,218, with a $34,220 local match.
In Renville County, Hiawatha Broadband Communications & RS Fiber was awarded $807,966.
This project will serve 193 unserved households, 99 unserved businesses and three community anchor institutions in portions of Preston Lake, Boon Lake, Brookfield, Osceola, Kingman, Winfield, Crooks, Erickson, Sac-red Heart (North), Emmet, Flora, Henry-ville, Norfolk, Birch Cooley, Camp and Cairo townships in Renville County.
Hiawatha Broadband Communications and RS Fiber will provide improved services that officials hope will stimulate business and population growth.
The total eligible project cost is $2.07 million, with a $1.26 million local match.

• NU-Telecom was also selected as one of the companies that will receive state grants for broadband development.  NU-Telecom received three of the 42 grants announced by Lt. Governor Tina Smith.
New Ulm Telecom will receive $850,486 of the $1,889,968 total project costs to build fiber connections to homes and businesses in the rural areas of Hanska and Mazeppa and in and around Bellechester.  President and CEO Bill Otis said the company expects the projects to begin in the spring.
“We’re very pleased that we were selected in the border-to-border grant process,” he said. “We appreciate the support from the local businesses and residents.  The grants will be utilized to extend our network and bring broadband services to customers in these rural areas, including providing Gigabit speeds via fiber-to-the home, which will exceed 2026 state speed goals.”

Photo courtesy of Internet public domain