By Ryan Faircloth
Minnesota is set to receive about $652 million in federal funding to expand access to high-speed internet throughout the state, the federal government announced Monday.
The funding by the U.S. Department of Commerce comes from the federal infrastructure act, which Congress passed in 2021. Rural and underserved communities that lack high-speed internet connectivity will be first in line for the new funds.
"This is a game-changer grant for the state of Minnesota," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in an interview.
All told, nearly $42.5 billion will be allocated to build out high-speed networks across the country. At the White House Monday, President Joe Biden hailed the investment as one that will benefit all Americans, "whether or not they voted for me."
Klobuchar pushed for the broadband funding for years, authoring a bill that she said served as the model for the grant program included in the infrastructure act.
The Democratic senator said she has long heard from constituents about the need for better internet access; farmers need it to use new technologies, rural schools need it for online education and small businesses rely on it for accounting purposes and to sell their goods online.
About 136,000 homes and small businesses in Minnesota still lack access to high-speed internet, Klobuchar said. That includes about two-thirds of residents in Pine County and nearly half in Murray County, she added.
"It is just the haves and the have-nots," she said. "If we weren't able to have an even playing field for Greater Minnesota with the metro, then we were going to start falling behind ... This is what's going to put us over the top."
High-speed internet access isn't an issue that's exclusive to rural areas. Formerly redlined neighborhoods in Minneapolis have some of the lowest percentages of broadband internet.
Separately, the Minnesota Legislature approved $100 million in state funding for broadband development last month. Between that and the newly announced federal money, Klobuchar said Minnesota is poised to come closer than ever to giving every resident access to high-speed internet.
Minnesota has set a goal of offering high-speed internet to all homes and businesses by 2026.
"Minnesota has an ambitious goal to increase broadband access and a collection of providers ready to expand our high-speed network, and we're grateful our federal partners are helping us pursue broadband for all," Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement Monday.
Bordering states also are set to receive significant funding. Wisconsin will get $1 billion, Iowa $415 million, South Dakota $207 million and North Dakota $130 million.
By the end of the year, Minnesota and other states must submit proposals to the federal government describing how they will allocate the money. The funding will begin flowing next year, Klobuchar said.
Traditional providers as well as rural electric and telephone companies will be able to seek funding, though the government will be able to claw back the money if it isn't used in a timely manner to expand broadband, Klobuchar said.