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Minnesota to receive "game changer" $650M for broadband from federal infrastructure funding

Fed invests $650 million in Minnesota broadband access
Fed invests $650 million in Minnesota broadband access 01:54

MINNEAPOLIS – President Joe Biden on Monday pledged that every part corner of the country will be connected to high-speed internet by the end of the decade, touting an influx of cash from the federal infrastructure law that states will soon receive.

Minnesota's share is more than $650 million to bridge the remaining digital divide here. Roughly 200,000 homes and businesses in Minnesota don't have access to what the Federal Communication Commission defines as broadband capability, according to Gov. Tim Walz's broadband taskforce.

Those are speeds of 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads. Even more don't have access to faster speeds.

DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar described the allocation from the federal government as a "game-changing" grant for Minnesota to meet its broadband needs. The White House calls the investment the largest in history.

"We have been trying for years to get some of the hardest-reach community," Klobuchar said. "Minnesota is always held up as an example of doing good mapping and figuring out what our needs are, and now we need to finish the job."

The state legislature has supported a state program for broadband since 2014 through General Fund appropriations. In its nine years of operation, it's connected more than 100,000 homes to broadband through $296 million in state grants, the governor's office said.

This year's state budget includes $100 million additional dollars for broadband.  


"The money has been coming out in $50 million, $100 million -- generous, yes, from the legislature -- but this is a game changer because it's six times the amount that was allocated in the last legislative session," Klobuchar said of the federal funds.

Brent Christensen, CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, said the state funding is still critical to ensure broadband providers can keep connecting unserved parts of the state while the federal money trickles in.  He said he's testified to other state legislatures about Minnesota's broadband investment, which he calls a success.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, which has the state broadband office, said 92% of Minnesota homes and businesses are connected to basic broadband.

But the remaining homes and businesses are the most costly and difficult to connect, he explained, because they are mostly in rural areas -- more than 80% of the unserved and underserved are in Greater Minnesota. State and federal money together will help push projects over the finish line.

"We need state and federal dollars to tip the scale [for businesses] so that we can get broadband to the hardest to serve," Christensen said.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program requires private businesses shoulder half the cost.

But a new program this year will allow the state to pick up 75% of the tab in sparsely populated areas, where it's harder for telecom companies to make a profit on the subscriber fees to offset the cost of building out the broadband infrastructure.

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