Five rural Minnesota telephone systems will be splitting more than $40 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to expand access to broadband internet.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said it is part of a two-pronged federal strategy. The Department of Commerce has generally been funding broadband hubs, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a different role.
"We, in turn, came in and tried to sort of complete the circle, so to speak, by focusing on how we can connect people to this technology directly in their homes and their businesses," Vilsack said. "Most of our emphasis has been on last mile."
Vilsack said the awards generally go to very rural areas.
"We focused our efforts on persistent poverty counties, areas ... where there was high unemployment and difficult economic conditions," he said.
The Wickstrom Telephone Company gets $7 million to provide broadband to un-served and underserved areas in four northwestern Minnesota counties. Other awards go to the Federated Telephone Cooperative in Morris, Farmers Mutual Telephone in Lac qui Parle County, Arvig Telephone in Perham and Woodstock Telephone in southwest Minnesota.
Meanwhile, a $34 million proposal to bring broadband to Cook County residents awaits federal action. Awards will continue through September 30th.