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LETTER: GOP boosts expansion of rural broadband

I was pleased to learn that the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has awarded nearly $3.4 million locally for state grants to expand broadband access.

Our policy changes ensured that the areas that truly needed broadband assistance received it. This is great news southwestern Minnesota, and I congratulate the local officials who worked with DEED to secure these grants.

A total of $2.94 million will be used by Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company for Nobles County broadband.This project will serve 469 unserved households, 1,060 unserved businesses and six unserved community anchor institutions in Nobles County. Lismore Cooperative and other partners will provide services that improve opportunities for health care, education and telecommuting.

Westbrook will also receive $412,391 through Woodstock Telephone. This project will serve 368 unserved households, 29 unserved businesses and seven unserved community anchor institutions in Westbrook in Cottonwood County. Woodstock will improve services that encourage business growth and more access to health care, education and telecommuting opportunities. 

Thanks to GOP-led efforts, $32 million of the $35 million in grants were targeted toward unserved areas of the state. Additionally, because of policy reforms to the program, the Minnesota State Broadband fund leveraged Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) federal broadband funding to amplify connectivity into 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 and 2016 legislative session. When combined with federal CAF II funds, Minnesota will see more than $100 million in broadband expansion this year alone.

In all, 71 Greater Minnesota communities receive a state grant to expand broadband access.