ST. PAUL – State Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin, said he is pleased by a pair of recent announcements that grants have been awarded to improve and expand broadband access in the area.
An announcement Wednesday from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on Tuesday indicates that Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative is receiving a $1.8 million grant. That news follows a recent announcement by the Department of Education regarding a grant award to the McGregor school district to improve and expand broadband access.
According to a press release from DEED, the $1.8 million MLEC grant will help reach 763 unserved households, two unserved businesses, two unserved community anchor institutions, 31 underserved households, and two underserved businesses in Aitkin County. The Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative and Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will partner to provide service levels that will enhance businesses, employment, health care and educational experiences in the region. The total eligible project cost is $3.5 million, with $1.76 million in local matching funds.
“Our area has long suffered from little or no high-speed internet service, something our friends in the metro area take for granted,” Lueck said. “My sincere congratulations to the staff at Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative and Consolidated Telecommunications for making the investment and doing the hard work necessary to qualify for this significant grant.”
Approximately $32 million of the $35 million in state grants are targeted toward unserved areas of the state—ensuring that broadband grants go to the communities that need them the most. A second smaller portion of state broadband funding is targeted specifically toward rural school districts. In December, the McGregor school district received a $46,500 grant through the Minnesota Department of Education Expanded Broadband Internet Access and Off-Campus Learning grant program.
“The McGregor school district also merits special recognition for pioneering a pilot program to install Wi-Fi access on their school buses,” Lueck said. “That will especially benefit students with long bus rides that wish to do homework en route to or from school or athletic events. Hats off to McGregor for their successful efforts.”
Additionally, because of policy reforms to the program in 2016, the Minnesota State Broadband fund leveraged Connect America Fund Phase II federal broadband funding to amplify connectivity within rural areas of the state. In total, Minnesota is expected to see half a billion dollars in combined state and federal broadband funding between 2015 and 2021.
The Legislature approved a total of $45 million in broadband grants during the 2015-16 legislative biennium. When combined with federal CAF II funds, Minnesota will see more than $100 million in broadband expansion this year alone.