Just as it took an extra taxpayer push to get electricity to rural areas, so too will rural internet service be delivered on the backs of the collective.

Thousands more rural Minnesotans and businesses will soon have access to high-speed internet with the help of $26 million in state grants for 39 projects around the state. More than $3.5 million is bound for Northeastern Minnesota projects.

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“Broadband internet access … is a basic utility of the 21st century,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said during a press conference Tuesday. She said about 20 percent of the state lacks the speeds necessary to remain plugged into the modern economy.

Yet the wait will be worth it for some as projects in Fredenberg Township, Brookston and elsewhere will offer previously unserved households download speeds up to a gigabyte per second - far faster than most urban areas offer.

More businesses, too, will be hard-wired and better equipped to compete with the “tool in the economic development toolbox” that is broadband, said Shawnterra Hardy, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

A map of Minnesota’s internet connectedness shows that even with the new state investment - short of the $50 million requested - there is still a long way to go getting adequate service to far-flung residents.

“As the market is working it isn't economically feasible for internet developers to expand where people are living so far apart,” Smith said, which leaves the state covering the “last mile” in many cases. With the state investment about $34 million more in private and local matches will be unlocked.

Studies point to higher incomes and better overall economic outcomes when rural areas get connected to high-speed internet, and health care quality and costs can also see improvement.

Border-to-Border Broadband projects in Northeastern Minnesota include:

  • Cromwell/Kettle River: 298 unserved households in western Carlton County, $569,000
  • Fredenberg Township: 835 unserved households, 17 businesses, $1.8 million
  • Fond du Lac Reservation, Brookston: 108 homes, eight businesses, one institution, $258,000
  • Rural St. Louis, Itasca, Hubbard counties: 787 homes, 42 businesses, six institutions, $802,000
  • Grindstone Lake, Pine County: 170 homes, three businesses, one institution, $118,000
  • Big Sandy Lake, Aitkin County: 347 homes, $148,500.