Time is running out to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal to get high-speed internet to all households by 2026.
Nearly 300,000 households do not have access to 100 megabits per second download speeds, which should allow family members to stream, game and Zoom without much trouble.
While 88% of the state can get internet at that speed, only 62% of rural areas can, a reflection of how installation costs per household skyrockets as population density goes down.
A large infusion of cash would put the state much closer to its goal.
Gov. Tim Walz is proposing more than $275 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds expansion of internet to underserved areas.
The governor’s budget recommendation presented to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Thursday calls for $138 million in each of the next two years to fund grants assisting with middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. Money could be used for design, permits, installation and testing.
This past year, the Office of Broadband Development distributed $99.6 million in 61 grants out of 130 applications requesting a total of $189.8 million.
Typical grants require a 50% match with a cap of $5 million. However, the broadband office had run a pilot program for very low-density areas with a $10 million cap. The grant could provide 75% of the money.
The office tries to be agnostic as far as the technology, whether fiber, satellite or mobile, said Director Bree Maki, but wired connections have often been more reliable. There is a push, especially when working with federal money, to ensure projects can be built upon, allowing greater speed or reliability in the future.
“We know that when we’re using taxpayer funds, there must be long-term solutions,” Maki said.