Mankato Free Press reports…
Four area telecommunication companies have been awarded state grants to expand high-speed broadband in rural areas.
The awards, among 42 grants totaling $34 million for projects across Greater Minnesota, were announced Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.
New Ulm Telecom will get $200,397 toward a project that will serve 14 unserved households and 32 unserved businesses in Lake Hanska Township in Brown County and Riverdale Township in Watonwan County. New Ulm Telephone will improve service levels in an area populated with farms and home-based businesses. The total eligible project cost is $445,326, with a $244,929 local match.
Blue Earth Valley Telephone Co. got $152,828 to help serve 18 unserved households (including farms), eight unserved businesses, two underserved households and three underserved businesses in rural Winnebago in Faribault County. Blue Earth Valley Telephone will improve services that will help livestock and grain farmers in the region. The total eligible project cost is $382,070, with a $229,242 local match.
The Granada Telephone Co. got $157,920 to serve 26 unserved households and 14 unserved businesses in the rural Granada area in Martin County. Granada Telephone will provide advanced broadband services to farms and residences in the area. The total eligible project cost is $394,800, with a $236,880 local match.
Martin County also received $1.68 million to serve 1,784 unserved households, 51 unserved businesses and nine unserved community institutions in Martin County. Frontier Communications will partner with Martin County to provide services that will attract economic development and make businesses more competitive. The total eligible project cost is $3.5 million, with a $1.82 million local match.
They also mention some of the concerns that others have had with legislative changes made to grant process…
A new report is recommending another $110 million be budgeted for the effort during the 2017 legislative session. But while lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have had well-publicized debates over the grant funding, the telecommunications industry has been winning quieter battles that may be undermining the program, Dan Dorman told The Free Press in a recent interview.
“It’s really been a tough uphill battle,” said Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, which lobbies for policies that promote outstate economic development.
One of Dorman’s biggest concerns is a change in the grant program approved by the Legislature in 2016 that allows existing cable companies and other internet providers to challenge grants being sought by a new competitor looking to enter a marketplace.
The provision seemed reasonable at first blush — that existing companies could object to state aid being provided to competitors if the existing provider promised to upgrade its service.