Border-to-Border Broadband for Minnesota

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Digital Beat

Border-to-Border Broadband for Minnesota

Kevin Taglang

By statute, Minnesota's goal is that, no later than 2022, all Minnesota homes and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 Mbps and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 Mbps. And, no later than 2026, all Minnesota homes and businesses will have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps. Moreover, Minnesota has set state goals for how it will compare to other regions. By 2022, the state plans to be in:

  • The top five states in the nation for broadband speed universally accessible to residents and businesses
  • The top five states for broadband access
  • The top 15 when compared to countries globally for broadband penetration

On July 14, Minnesota received a $68.4 million boost from the U.S. Treasury towards achieving these goals.

The Digital Divide in Minnesota

According to Minnesota's governor, Timothy Walz (D-MN), the state has approximately 240,000 households that lack wireline access to 100/20 broadband service; 224,000 of those households are located in rural areas. Approximately 171,000 households (8% of all households in the state) lack access to 25/3 broadband; 161,000 of those households are located in rural areas. 

The state estimates it will cost more than $1.3 billion to connect all locations lacking 100/20 broadband service. 

Broadband Programs in Minnesota

Minnesota’s broadband plan began in 2008 and the program is reassessed on an annual basis by the legislature. The plan consists of four interacting components: statutory goals, data and mapping, broadband office, and program tools.

Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development serves as the central broadband planning body for the state. Created in 2013, the broadband office resides in Minnesota’s  Department of Employment and Economic Development. The office is responsible for overseeing and operationalizing the various elements of the state plan. These responsibilities represent a range of activities—from working with providers in understanding what the barriers are in bringing service to unserved areas, to working with communities to articulate and achieve broadband plans that take into consideration the unique variables in their area, to administering the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program is the state's financial tool to assist in addressing the primary cause for the lack of broadband in unserved areas: high costs and lower population densities produced business plans that were not sustainable and thus broadband installations were not feasible. The Border-to-Border is a competitive matching capital grant program to address the financial gap. Border-to-Border began in 2014 and has a portfolio of $125.6 million in state investments matched with $180.2 million in private and local matching funds for 179 broadband expansion projects across the state.

Appropriations to this program had been on an annual basis made available through Minnesota’s general fund. In 2021, the legislature appropriated $70 million split over two years to Border-to-Border. That funding is from Minnesota’s allocation under the American Rescue Plan Act's Capital Projects Fund.

On July 14, the  U.S. Department of Treasury approved Minnesota’s $68.4 million plan for use of 38 percent of the state's Capital Projects Fund allotment. Minnesota estimates that investments made using the Capital Projects Fund will serve 8 percent of locations still lacking high-speed internet access in the state. The Minnesota Broadband Office will initiate a fiscal year 2022 Border-to-Border Grant round, followed by a FY23 round. Networks supported by this funding will be designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100/100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. And network operators will participate in the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program, a $30/month subsidy for low-income households. The Broadband Office will employ safeguards to ensure funding does not overlap with other federal and locally-funded broadband infrastructure projects.

The Blandin Foundation

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the trailblazing work of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota. Based in Grand Rapids, Blandin connects, funds and advocates for ideas and people to inspire resourcefulness and move rural places forward. Blandin's vision is for rural Minnesota places that welcome diversity, address injustice, and embrace change to create a sustainable and equitable future.

Since 2003, the Blandin Community Broadband Program has engaged at the local, state and federal levels to ignite and sustain policies that support rural access to robust broadband. Guiding this work is a vision that Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

Blandin has been empowering rural community leaders to focus on improving broadband infrastructure and services to enable community vitality and quality of life. The foundation trained these leaders on community broadband planning strategies to create their own path toward better connectivity. Blandin's programs have threaded a balance of focus on spurring better infrastructure, addressing digital inclusion, and supporting more effective use of technology in business, education, health care, and social interaction.

By the spring of 2022, Blandin had partnered with more than 70 rural Minnesota communities to invest over $5 million and leverage over $12 million in matching dollars to fund hundreds of projects across the state for broadband planning and use. In addition, communities participating in Blandin programs have received millions in infrastructure development funds from federal and state agencies due to their community planning, commitment, and provider partnerships.

The Blandin Foundation's innovative thinking led to the design of the Accelerate program in Minnesota and the creation of many of the tools shared in the Benton Institute's guidebook, Accelerate: A Community Broadband Planning Program

More in this series

American Rescue Plan Fuels Virginia's Universal Broadband Efforts

Treasury Helps Broadband for Everyone in Louisiana

Capital Projects Fund Aids West Virginia's Billion Dollar Broadband Strategy

Broadband is the Future of New Hampshire

U.S. Treasury Helps Accelerate Broadband Deployment in Kansas

Treasury's Capital Projects Fund Boosts Maryland's Network Infrastructure Grant Program

Treasury Support Helps Connect Maine

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Kevin Taglang.