State grants $34 million to expand rural broadband, one project in Le Sueur County 18 Jan 17

ST. PAUL — A new round of state grants could extend broadband to thousands of businesses and households throughout areas of rural Minnesota, including a portion of Le Sueur County, that now are without reliable internet access.

A total of $34 million has been dedicated to 42 broadband infrastructure projects throughout the state aiming to chip away at the number of people left offline in greater Minnesota.

The state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure plan adds state taxpayer dollars to funding from private and local sources and federal reimbursements from the Connect America Fund.

Cities and the private sector matched state grants with an additional $40 million in funding. Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said the funding would help “level the playing field” for the nearly 20 percent of Minnesota households lacking internet access.

The grants are expected to provide affordable high-speed internet access to more than 16,000 households and 2,200 businesses throughout the state.

“Private industry is beholden to shareholders, and their expansion has to provide return on investment acceptable to shareholders,” Smith said. “We are coming up with ways to fill the gap where the private sector is just not able to expand to that last mile or even that middle mile because projects just don’t make economic sense without some kind of partnership with the public.”

In Le Sueur County, Heidelberg residents will see an increase in broadband speed by 250 percent. Starting this June, Eckles Telephone Company in New Prague will serve 51 unserved households, seven unserved businesses, 40 underserved households, and four underserved businesses in the rural Heidelberg area.

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