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December 18, 2017

12/5/2017 10:40:00 AM
Northern county township lands nearly $2 million in state grant

Fish Lake Township has won $1.833,724  as a state economic development grant to improve broadband service in the township.  Township Clerk Andrea Nekowitsch tells the Press everybody who worked on this application is excited and the township supervisors have started to work on finalizing details with provider CenturyLink. When a timeline and other matters are worked out there will be an update.

The project will bring fiber to 919 households (FTH) and seven business sites.

Following the success of Sunrise Township last year in winning over a million dollars for its broadband initiative;   there were meetings held in Chisago County soliciting any additional interest in the Border to Border application process. Nekowitsch attended a meeting June 26 in North Branch. Shortly afterwards-- an Internet improvement citizen committee formed in the township and Fish Lake submitted a grant application to the state by September.  (Press story Sept 2 2017.)

Lt. Governor Tina Smith and state agency officials announced in a telephone news conference last week, that about $20 million is going out in this new round of Border to Border Broadband Grants.  This program covers up to 50 percent of individual projects’ estimated costs.  Fish Lake anticipates having to provide a grant “match” of  $569,000.

Lt. Governor Smith said the state broadband enhancement funding program, now in its fourth year,  was meant to facilitate providing what she calls “a basic utility in the 21st century,” she stated.  

Internet upload and download speeds and capacity are now drivers in the marketplace now and Fish Lake proposes upload and download speeds of one gig per second from its finished project.  This exceeds the state’s 2026 goal for broadband.

It was good to see several new applicants and Internet providers getting involved in the funding round, added DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy.  She explained,  “The state’s desire was to incite participation” and the interest shown in the grants is encouraging.

Internet providers have shunned rural areas where it hasn’t been cost effective to install more-costly equipment with few users per mile.   The state program recognizes that technologies for delivery have evolved and grant awards apply to all the viable technologies.  It was explained that the grant applications were evaluated on a set of objective criteria and include projects involving wireless, fiber, DSL, cable etc.  

Providers, like CenturyLink in the Fish Lake Twsp. grant project,  were evaluated for the sustainability of their plans, viability of the broadband customer program and partnership qualities.    
Chisago County HRA/EDA Executive Director Nancy Hoffman added that the grants were “very competitive” and she looks forward to the people in the township receiving their improved service. She said when Fish Lake did a quick electronic survey prior to drafting the application 70 percent of 200 households that responded supported the township pursuing improving Internet.

The grant funds are available immediately, according to the state officials’ phone interview with the Press last week.  Fish Lake will see CenturyLink service the entire township, unlike Sunrise Twsp. which is covered by more than one provider company.

The Border to Border Broadband program has been championed by Governor Dayton and Lt Governor Smith starting with a Task Force named a few years ago to review service and estimate needs in the state.  Chisago County called for volunteers for a county broadband group that used Blandin Foundation funds,  which also played a role in identifying the county broadband service structure and customers’ needs.

The lieutenant governor also said she hopes the legislature, when it reconvenes in a couple months supports this while putting together the second year of the biennium budget.

Smith observed, “We haven’t gotten the majority legislative support we hoped we would have,  to make substantial progress” on improving this economic development tool.

She noted that the governor asked for $66 million and got about $20 million out of the last session.  “This is fundamental to our competitiveness,” she concluded.

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AnnMarie Brink - US Bank

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