Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL – International Falls, shares remarks in January at a State Capitol news conference where Gov. Tim Walz, at left, announced 30 new Border-to-Border Broadband Grant recipients.

Koochiching County will benefit from more than $23 million in Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program funds to 30 broadband projects across the state.

Projects receiving funding include $2.5 million toward Paul Bunyan Communications’ upgrades in Koochiching, Cass, Itasca, and St. Louis counties and on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation, and $1.2 million toward upgrades on the Bois Forte Reservation.

The grants were recently announced by Gov. Tim Walz, who said the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development award will bring high-quality broadband access to underserved and unserved areas of Minnesota, providing fast, reliable internet access for more than 10,900 businesses, homes, and community anchor institutions.

Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL – International Falls, championed funding for the grants during the 2020 legislative session.

“There are numerous reasons for continued public investment in high-speed broadband. For our students, it’s unacceptable that many of them need travel to a coffee shop, restaurant, or library to connect to Wi-Fi just to do their homework,” Ecklund said. “My region and others in greater Minnesota also have a ton of potential for new economic opportunities, and I’m hopeful we can see current companies and emerging entrepreneurs prosper. By taking advantage of these opportunities, we can keep our rural communities thriving and vibrant.”

“Fast, reliable broadband access is a critical economic development tool that improves quality of life and makes businesses in greater Minnesota more competitive,” said Walz. “These grants help us get closer to our goal to ensure that every Minnesotan has high-speed internet access by 2022.”

During the 2019 legislative session, the governor signed into law a total of $40 million in one-time funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program in 2020 and 2021. Altogether, DEED received requests for $70 million in funding for 80 different applications during the latest grant application round.

The state of Minnesota has set a goal for universal access and high-speed internet so that by no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second. And by no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

This is the fifth year of the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program. The grants announced bring the number of homes and businesses provided broadband access through the grant program since 2014 to a total of 49,900.