ST. PAUL – Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, announces Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will receive a grant of nearly $760,000 to assist in improving Internet access for underserved portions of the region.
The Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant is one of 15 – totaling $11 million – announced by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. It will help Consolidated better service to 272 households in the Fort Ripley area. The total cost of the project is $1.6 million, with the balance covered by a 52-percent match from Consolidated Telecommunications and other agencies in the area.
Lueck issued a letter of support for the project to DEED in early September. In it, he indicated: "Because of the potential for growth and opportunity in our rural communities, I am in strong support of the Fort Ripley Phase II/Consolidated Telecommunications Company Broadband Project. The project is a logical extension of the strategic fiber backbone that is part of a project already in progress in cooperation with Fort Ripley Township in Crow Wing County. Phase II is part of a longer-range plan for reaching unserved and underserved households, and businesses 'last miles' in that area."
DEED reports a survey concluded that more than 83 percent of respondents in the area would benefit from telecommuting, an option currently unavailable due to insufficient Internet service. In addition, the project will enable home-based businesses to develop and expand.
"Major portions of Aitkin and Crow Wing County are severely underserved or have no practical broadband access," Lueck said. "Projects like this one are examples of how the Legislature has provided funding to leverage local community support and private-sector funding to extend broadband service into under and unserved areas. Extending broadband access into rural Minnesota is a challenging task that must include a variety of approaches. It is a critical investment that will help create a sustainable future for our citizens here is rural Minnesota."
A total of 44 groups applied for grants this year, adding up to more than $29 million in requests.