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Legislative push to boost broadband funding underway

Published by The Timberjay on March 21, 2019

By Marcus White

REGIONAL—Minnesota’s Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, or DEED, urged lawmakers this week to reinstate the Border-to-Border grant program for rural broadband. At a press conference on Wednesday, Commissioner Steve Grove said legislation currently in the works would put $70 million into the program with $35 million being available in both 2020 and 2021.

That legislation is being sponsored by District 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls.

Ecklund said an additional $15 million in unused funds from last year’s budget could be added to the new dollars, helping to further boost funding for rural projects.

“The governor cares deeply about this,” Grove said. “The model should be that you don’t need to live in the metro to take part in the global economy.”

The commissioner said rural projects don’t always have as much appeal for private companies because sparser population tends to increase the cost of bringing broadband speeds to customers. Broadband speeds in Minnesota are defined as 25 megabytes per seconds (mbps) for download speed and 2 mbps upload speed.

According to Grove about 87 percent of Minnesota residents have access to these speeds, but the state is pushing for a further increase of 100 mbps download and 20 mbps upload by 2026.

How the grant money will be dispersed will be determined by a number of factors, including a company’s 10-year build-out plan.

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