ST PAUL -- Thousands of Minnesotans previously left in the dark will now be plugged into the internet thanks to $23 million in grants from the state.

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Jan. 21, announced that nearly 11,000 homes, businesses and institutions in 30 communities across Minnesota will receive state and local funds to build broadband infrastructure, thanks to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

"We all know that (broadband access) is far more than just a nice thing to have," Walz said at Tuesday's news conference in St. Paul. "This is an economic development tool. It's absolutely critical to equity in education and opportunity across Minnesota."

DEED Commissioner Steve Grove on Tuesday said that in this age, broadband access is a "right," not a luxury, like running water and electricity. But telecommunications companies are unwilling to shoulder the substantial cost of building rural broadband infrastructure alone, he said. That's where state dollars can help.

"These grants help us reach that last mile of service in Minnesota and our goal to be a model state where you don't have to move to a metro to participate in the 21st century economy," Grove said in a Tuesday news release.

Each of the 30 state grants are being matched with local dollars, as well. The program is part of a bill Walz signed in 2019 appropriating $40 million in one-time funds for broadband development over the course of two years. The next $20 million round of grants will come in 2021. DEED says they have received a total of 80 applications for broadband grants, totaling $70 million.

The project sites range from Faribult County in the south, to Kittson County in the north and in between. Three tribal reservations -- Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Leech Lake -- are receiving grants, as well.