Minnesota economist: Broadband grants ought to generate a return on investment

Minnesota will award $27 million in state funding and $42.6 million in federal funding to broadband expansion projects across the state.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on Monday launched a request for proposals for the funding. The funding supports the state’s goal that all homes and businesses have access `to broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second by 2026, the news release said.

“I’d say that this is not one of the worst ways for the government to spend money,” Center of the American Experiment Economist John Phelan told The Center Square in an emailed statement Dec. 20. “Unlike most spending that gets called ‘investment,’ this actually is investment in the sense that it ought to increase the economy's productive capacity and generate a return.”

Providers can use grant funding to reimburse up to half of the cost of the infrastructure they deploy, up to $5 million per project. They must submit their applications by March 2, 2023. The state will award grants in the early summer.

“Broadband access and adoption are critical for workers, education, healthcare and our business community,” DEED Deputy Commissioner Kevin McKinnon said. “We are working hard to provide this resource across the state and to all Minnesotans.”

In the latest broadband grant award round, the department awarded $99.6 million in grants from the Border-to-Border Broadband program to 61 projects around Minnesota in the state’s largest single investment in broadband, the release said. Before then, the department awarded grants to connect more than 57,000 homes and businesses around the state to high-speed broadband since the program began in 2014.

Providers estimate they have extended new high-speed internet connections to more than 33,000 Minnesota homes and businesses in 48 counties, according to a news release.

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