Need help creating your digital equity plan? Here’s an option

This isn’t the only handbook and I don’t know that it’s the best but we can all use more help with the funding opportunities that are coming to the communities…

This Handbook offers key principles and best practices that state and local governments should follow in structuring their digital equity plans and establishing and supporting digital equity programs. States, territories, and Tribes are currently developing digital equity plans to meet the funding requirements of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 1 County, municipal, and local governments also are developing more localized digital equity plans, recognizing the importance of home broadband connectivity and online services to social, civic, and economic participation, and leveraging funding provided under available federal and state programs.

This Handbook focuses on the importance of building “digital equity” into broadband availability and adoption programs. Digital equity requires acknowledging that different individuals and groups of individuals will require different skills, resources, and opportunities to successfully participate in an increasingly digital world, and empowering them to do so.

Broadband availability and adoption programs should be equitable by design, meaning programs should seek to address underlying social and economic inequalities and should focus, as appropriate, on groups, areas, and characteristics of greatest need: low-income groups; rural areas; communities with low rates of literacy and digital skills; aging individuals; persons with disabilities; and minority groups with low adoption rates.

USDA announces funding (loans) to support rural electric grid: 6 in MN

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Department is investing $2.7 billion to help 64 electric cooperatives and utilities (PDF, 175 KB) expand and modernize the nation’s rural electric grid and increase grid security.

The implication is that infrastructure could be broadband improvements too – certainly means more infrastructure. There were six awards in Minnesota:

  1. McLeod Cooperative Power Association
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 288 consumers, and build and improve 74 miles of line. This loan includes $2,039,629 in smart grid technologies. McLeod is headquartered in Glencoe, Minnesota, and serves 6,975 consumers over 1,921 miles of line in seven counties in central Minnesota.
  2. Beltrami Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. This loan includes $1,317,000 in smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota serving portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca, and Koochiching counties. The area is served through over 3,500 miles of distribution line and covers approximately 3,000 square miles with 21,772 consumers.
  3. Red Lake Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 299 consumers and build and improve 54 miles of line. This loan includes $104,000 in smart grid technologies. Red Lake Electric is headquartered in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota and provides service to 5,704 consumers over 2,642 miles of energized line through six counties in northern Minnesota.
  4. PKM Electric Cooperative Inc.
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 342 consumers and build and improve 119 miles of line. This loan includes $1,074,000 in smart grid technologies. PKM Electric is headquartered in Warren, Minnesota and serves 3,955 consumers through 2,298 miles in three central Minnesota counties.
  5. Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 1,846 consumers and build and improve 1,631 miles of line. This loan includes $3,628,271 in smart grid technologies. Minnesota Valley Electric is headquartered in Jordan, Minnesota and serves 44,411 consumers across a 968-square-mile service area, encompassing nine counties: Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Le Sueur, Rice, Scott, Sibley, and Waseca.
  6. South Central Electric Association
    This Rural Development investment will be used to connect 188 consumers, and build and improve 76 miles of line. This loan includes $1,679,250 in smart grid technologies. South Central Electric is headquartered in St. James, Minnesota, and serves 5,928 members through 2,467 miles of line in eight counties in Minnesota.

Minnesota needs $276M state funding and federal funds to meet broadband goals

MinnPost reports

Renewed interest in public funding to subsidize construction of high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas since the COVID-19 pandemic began has resulted in gobs of broadband money in Minnesota — at least compared to what used to be spent on the issue.

But the oodles of cash, mostly approved by the federal government over the last few years, is still not enough for Minnesota to meet its latest broadband goals, according to state officials. So Gov. Tim Walz’s administration has proposed spending another $276 million in the two-year budget.

The money would propel the state toward its goal of having universal access to high-speed internet by 2026, which might cost $426 million in the next four years, according to one estimate by the state’s broadband task force.

The $276 million would be a huge amount of state money for internet infrastructure, if it’s approved by lawmakers. But the total is a proverbial drop in the bucket of Minnesota’s $17.6 billion budget surplus, underscoring just how much cash lawmakers have at their disposal.

More details…

There are also a slew of federal broadband programs that will help Minnesota cover the remaining $1.38 billion. The broadband task force estimated the state is in line for $968 million from the federal government, most of which is from the infrastructure bill that passed Congress in 2021.

What’s left for Minnesota, according to the task force report, is roughly $426 million, a price tag that factors in administrative costs and is based on a 50% match. (Minnesota almost had an additional $311 million grant from the feds to cover much of it, but the FCC stripped the award from embattled LTD Broadband last year over concerns the company couldn’t deliver.)


Kandiyohi County is looking at $400,000 ARPA funding for broadband

West Central Tribune reports

The Kandiyohi County push to extend high-speed broadband across the county continues. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Kandiyohi County Board , the Kandiyohi County Broadband Committee will be requesting additional American Rescue Plan Act dollars to help fund a two-part, three-township project.

The project would expand high-speed broadband through Harrision, Lake Elizabeth and East Lake Lillian townships. The ARPA request is for $399,725. The committee is also asking for a letter of support from the county board to go with the project’s state Border to Border grant application. The county hopes to be awarded 75% of the project total, or $1.49 million.

Martin County Commissioners are looking at better broadband options

The Fairmont Sentinel reports

During its meeting on Jan. 17, the Martin County Board of Commissioners moved forward with plans for a grant program to help fund broadband development in rural Martin County. The program would use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, passed in 2021, to help cover the cost of last mile broadband installation in parts of the county that are currently unserved or underserved by existing broadband infrastructure.

“Our goal is to make sure every household in Martin County has access to high speed broadband,” said Joshua Shuetz, a community and business development specialist who works with the county.

In the current form of the proposal the county would commit $1.5 million to cover up to half the cost of broadband improvements in parts of the county where wired download speeds are less than 100 mbps and upload speeds are less than 20 mbps. Because the program would cover up to half the cost of broadband projects, it’s expected to stimulate at least twice this amount in broadband improvements.

The goal is to serve everyone, not just in towns…

While most cities in Martin County such as Fairmont, Sherburn, Granada, Truman and Trimont already have broadband, access rapidly drops off outside of city limits. Many people may have an internet cable that runs near their homes but have not yet been connected to their service providers.

“There might be someone out in the country who has fiber running close to them but it could be as little as a half mile or a quarter mile and it’s not to their house so they got nothing. Last mile tends to be the most expensive so that’s why we’re so laser focused on that,” said Schuetz.

While a future state or federal program could provide more assistance to the remainder of the county Schuetz highlighted the importance of local entities taking the first steps towards improving broadband access.

Currently Martin County ranks 71 (our of 87) for broadband access in Minnesota. This step might help them climb the ranks, especially if they are ready to move forward even before the upcoming federal funds are available.

What is the Broadband Line Extension Program in Minnesota?

Sharing information from the Office of Broadband Development…

Line Extension Connection

What is the Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection?

The Line Extension Connection program goal is to connect residents and businesses that lack access to broadband internet service to service providers, and then assist in the expense of extending broadband to those locations.

How the Program Works

Residential and business locations that are unserved (lack access to speeds of at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload) can apply by entering their information into the Line Extension Connection portal.* This will initiate their interest in receiving broadband internet service and make their location available for consideration.

By submitting your address into the Line Extension Connection portal, internet service providers will have the opportunity to review the location and submit a bid based on the cost to bring service to your location.

The Office of Broadband Development will evaluate these bids and required provider documentation and make awards to the providers whose bid proposes the lowest cost to the State for extension of the service.

*Submitting location information into the Line Extension Connection portal does not guarantee extension of service.

*If a resident or business cannot access the online portal, the Office of Broadband Development can assist in this process. Please call 651-259-7610.

Who Can Apply

Locations that currently lack broadband service or have actual broadband speeds of less than 25/3Mbps.


The Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection Program has been allocated $15 million in total funding.

Limits per line extension are set by Minnesota law. These limits are:

  • A per line extension amount cannot exceed $25,000.
  • The Office of Broadband Development must ensure the bid is a cost-effective use of state funds.


The Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Connection online portal is accepting applications.

The bidding and review processes must take place before awards can be made. Once made, projects must be completed within 12 months of the contract date.

  • At least every six months, OBD will provide Internet Service Providers the listing of addresses requesting service
  • Service providers will have 10 days to notify OBD of service availability at those locations
  • Service Providers have 60 days to submit bids on locations they would like to extend service to
  • OBD will evaluate all bids within 60 days and select the provider whose bid requests the lowest amount of financial support from the state.

More information is available on our website. Need help applying or need to request a paper form? Call 651-259-7610 or email

Independence will be seeking a Border to Border grant (Hennepin County)

Lake Pioneer reports

For years, the city of Independence has looked at ways to expand broadband access to more of its residents.

At the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, city administrator Mark Kaltsas asked the council to support a plan to seek grant money to help expand broadband services to 434 additional homes in the area. The council unanimously approved the motion.

Kaltsas told the council that Midco Communications has the potential to expand services to Independence residents. Midco would like to apply in March for the state’s Border to Border grant funds though the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to expand broadband services by 2025. The proposed expansion would be fiber-to-the-home and capable of 5 gb symmetrical speeds.

In addition to that grant, the city of Independence would also apply for a grant through the Hennepin County Broadband grant program that is accepting applications through Jan. 31. Kaltsas said that the city would apply for a $250,000 grant with Hennepin County.

Here are some of the details…

Kaltas also provided some numbers behind the project: Total homes covered would 434 (considered currently unserved by MN DEED), with the total cost of $2.9 million. Midco would contribute $1.49 million with an addition $1.49 million from the Border to Border grant. The Hennepin County Broadband grant would be applied to reduce the DEED request.

“There really is no risk or cost to the city to do it, other than staff time,” Kaltsas said of applying for the grants. “It really is that western area which we’ve so badly tried to get served with broadband, I think this is a good opportunity.”

OPPORTUNITY: AARP Community Challenge grant applications are open

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

AARP has announced it is accepting applications for its seventh annual Community Challenge grant program, a funding source for nonprofit organizations and governmental entities to apply for “quick-action” projects that make communities more livable and have the potential to seed long-term change.

Previous grant awards were given for a wide-range of initiatives, including a 2021 project that provided Wi-Fi, smart home devices, a computer lab and digital literacy programming for older adults in a public housing development in Jersey City, NJ; and a 2019 program to help bridge the digital divide and social isolation by funding a hotspot lending program that distributed 60 hotspot devices.

This year, two new grant award categories have been established in addition to the Flagship Grants awarded in previous years. The two new grant categories are Capacity-Building Microgrants and Demonstration Grants.

Applications are due by March 15. Grant award winners will be announced on June 28 for projects that must be completed by November 30.

Beltrami Electric Cooperative gets $22.7 million USDA loan for smart grid technology (Polk County)

The USDA reports

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the Department is investing $2.7 billion to help 64 electric cooperatives and utilities (PDF, 175 KB) expand and modernize the nation’s rural electric grid and increase grid security.

Investment included Minnesota…

USDA is investing in 64 projects through the Electric Loan Program. This funding will benefit nearly 2 million rural people and businesses in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

Here are some details…

Minnesota’s Beltrami Electric Cooperative is receiving a $22.7 million loan to connect 1,480 consumers and build and improve 225 miles of line. The loan includes $1.3 million for smart grid technologies. Beltrami Electric is headquartered in Bemidji, Minnesota. It serves 21,772 consumers in portions of Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca and Koochiching counties with 3,500 miles of distribution line covering approximately 3,000 square miles.

And hope for the future…

In the coming months, USDA will announce additional energy infrastructure financing. The Biden-Harris Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act provided more than $12 billion to USDA for loans and grants to expand clean energy, transform rural power production, create jobs and spur economic growth. This funding will help make energy cleaner, more reliable and more affordable.

EVENT Feb 1: Broadband Budget at MN Senate Committee Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development Committee

Happening tomorrow…

Feb 1 at 3pm
Senator Aric Putnam

Location: 1150 Minnesota Senate Bldg.

If you wish to testify on SF 548, please email the Committee Administrator, Hunter Pederson, at by 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Tuesday 01/31. Please include your name/the testifier’s name, title, and organization.


  • Call to Order

  • Governor’s Budget Presentation- Broadband Items

  • S.F. 0548  Putnam

    Rural Finance Authority bond issue and appropriation

More on Border to Border grants in Dakota County

Hometown Source reports…

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is awarding approximately $98,750 to deliver broadband infrastructure to 68 households and one business in northwest Dakota County, including portions of Apple Valley and Lakeville – all which lack access to qualifying broadband service today, according to a news release from Rep. John Huot’s office.

More info on the project…

As a result of this broadband grant, Spectrum Mid-America, managed by Charter Communications Inc., will improve broadband service levels, exceeding 2026 state speed goals. The high bandwidth broadband access will assist residents with remote learning and remote working, accommodate members of a household or small business simultaneously using bandwidth-intensive applications, such as video conferencing, telemedicine, video streaming, gaming, virtual or augmented reality sessions, and numerous other applications, the release said. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in 2014. The legislative focus of this grant program is to provide financial resources that help make the business case for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas of the state. The Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has been funded with state general fund revenues and a combination of both state general fund revenues and the federal American Rescue Plan Act, according to the release.

More on Border to Border grants in in Houston and Winona Counties

News 8000 reports…

A nearly $2.9 million grant will improve high speed internet connections in Houston and Winona Counties.

The grant comes as part of Minnesota’s ‘Border-to-Border Broadbrand Grants’ program.

The grant will allow Acentek to bring speeds of up to a gigabyte to 900 locations in the counties.

The state’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals will be exceeding in the area with the grant’s help and it will be paired with $6.7 million from other local sources.

More than $23 million in grants will be distributed to 30 projects across the state.

MN House take on Governor Walz’s broadband budget

The MN House of Representatives reports on the MN House Ag Finance and Policy Committee Meeting yesterday…

Time is running out to meet Minnesota’s statutory goal to get high-speed internet to all households by 2026.

Nearly 300,000 households do not have access to 100 megabits per second download speeds, which should allow family members to stream, game and Zoom without much trouble.

While 88% of the state can get internet at that speed, only 62% of rural areas can, a reflection of how installation costs per household skyrockets as population density goes down.

A large infusion of cash would put the state much closer to its goal.

Gov. Tim Walz is proposing more than $275 million for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds expansion of internet to underserved areas.

The governor’s budget recommendation presented to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Thursday calls for $138 million in each of the next two years to fund grants assisting with middle-mile and last-mile broadband infrastructure. Money could be used for design, permits, installation and testing.

This past year, the Office of Broadband Development distributed $99.6 million in 61 grants out of 130 applications requesting a total of $189.8 million.

Typical grants require a 50% match with a cap of $5 million. However, the broadband office had run a pilot program for very low-density areas with a $10 million cap. The grant could provide 75% of the money.

The office tries to be agnostic as far as the technology, whether fiber, satellite or mobile, said Director Bree Maki, but wired connections have often been more reliable. There is a push, especially when working with federal money, to ensure projects can be built upon, allowing greater speed or reliability in the future.

Details on Governor Walz’s $270 million broadband budget

According to the official One Minnesota Budget released by Governor Walz…

Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan are investing in Minnesota’s economic future by recruiting and retaining workers, empowering employers to grow their businesses, and making sure Minnesota is creating the jobs of the future right here at home. The One Minnesota Budget invests in everything from agriculture to workforce training to clean energy jobs to make sure Minnesota continues to be competitive in a global economy. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s plan will ensure that
Minnesota is a destination to live, work, and raise a family.

Here are the details on the broadband budget…

Increasing Access to Broadband
The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program expands broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved in pursuit of the state’s goal that all homes and businesses have access to broadband by 2026. Since its inception in 2014, the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has provided nearly $230 million to connect 90,000 Minnesota homes and businesses to high-speed internet. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan recommend $276 million in new funding to expand the reach of this vital program.

US Farm Bill may mean more broadband funding in the future

Fierce Telecom reports…

Congress already allocated $65 billion for broadband in 2021 via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), but as negotiations over the 2023 Farm Bill get underway some are angling for even more cash to boost rural broadband.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Farm Bill is a sprawling piece of legislation covering agricultural and food programs that is revisited every five years or so. The last Farm Bill was passed in late 2018, meaning it is up for renewal in the back half of 2023.

Though you might not immediately associate internet infrastructure with agriculture, rural broadband programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been a part of the Farm Bill since 2002. The ReConnect Program is probably the best-known of these, but the USDA also oversees the Telecommunications Infrastructure Program, Rural Broadband Program (RBP), Community Connect Grant Program (CCGP), and Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLTP).

Annual appropriations for the last three – $350 million for the RBP, $50 million for the CCGP and $75 million to $82 million for the DLTP – were included in the 2018 bill and are set to expire on September 30 of this year. The ReConnect Program has received funding sporadically through separate legislation, including $2 billion from the IIJA in 2021. But the Congressional Research Service noted Congress could consider a longer-term funding mechanism for ReConnect in its 2023 Farm Bill.