More than $34.6 million in COVID relief funds were awarded in August to 15 Minnesota cities and counties across the state as part of the Small Cities Coronavirus Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG-CV). The grant program was created to support Minnesota’s COVID-19 response efforts with the help of a special allocation of Community Development Block Grant funds from the CARES Act fund.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) administered the grants which can be used for projects like housing assistance and commercial rehabilitation, but the majority of the funding - approximately $32 million - will be used for broadband projects.
“The pandemic has made clear how vital broadband is to the lives of Minnesotans and to the economic vitality of our state,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove in a DEED press release. “These grants will help communities fund broadband and other important projects as we write the next chapter of our economy.”
Aitkin County, receiving the largest grant of $4.8 million, submitted an application to work with the Mille Lac Energy Cooperative on a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) project that would pass approximately 565 homes across seven communities, six of which don’t even have access to 10/1 Megabit per second (Mbps). The application projected it would take approximately 93 miles of fiber and $9,000 per passing location. In its application, the county shared that while the median household income across Minnesota is $71,300, the median across these communities is $45,990, demonstrating that there is a clear issue of infrastructure and access, but also affordability. As part of its application, Aitkin County and MLEC announced the latter would include a low-cost plan to help address the digital divide:
MLEC will offer a discounted plan at $39.95 with speeds of 50Mbps/50 Mbps to qualifying residents.If the Emergency Broadband Benefit is continued after the initial funding period" MLEC hopes to participate in this program and will discontinue the discounted...