Article by: Abby Wright
On Tuesday, January 21, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced that the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), in its fifth year of the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program, shall award 30 of 80 broadband project requests submitted last September from around the State, totaling $23,270,933 in funded projects. The largest awarded request at $2,895,318—with a total project cost of $9,651,059—was authored by CEDA Community Grant Specialist, Abby Wright, on behalf of one of CEDA’s longstanding partners, AcenTek, a communications company that provides internet, voice, and video services to 33 communities throughout MN, IA, and MI. Located in the City of Houston, MN, AcenTek sought to expand its fiber-to-the-home infrastructure to make high-speed broadband accessible beyond the City limits, where, for the people who live and work there, lack of dependable, affordable, remote communications often necessitates long commutes in addition to other major inconveniences.
“The project clearly aligns with the ‘B2B’ program,” Wright says, “It’s going to make so many people’s lives better.” Over 200 residents, farmers, and business owners in the project area expressed in letters of support that high-speed internet will allow them and their family members to bank and manage their healthcare online, telework, stream videos, and conduct faster research for homework, jobs, or to self-educate. As a result of AcenTek’s construction of infrastructure for fiber optic internet in the project area, about 485 unserved and 424 underserved locations in Houston and Winona Counties will see improved broadband service levels that exceed the 2022 and 2026 State speed goals.
Chief Financial Officer of AcenTek, Darren Moser, who led the project, says, “These residences, businesses, and farms will get state-of-the-art facilities and services for years to come.”
Cris Gastner, CEDA’s Senior Vice President, oversaw the project on CEDA’s end. The photo below depicts Gastner representing CEDA and introducing AcenTek at a public hearing, which over 35 people attended, including Wright and Allison Wagner, EDA Director of Houston County and the Small Cities Development Program Specialist at CEDA. The Houston County EDA Board had just voted to support the project with a three-year, interest-free loan to AcenTek. The loan combined with AcenTek’s own investment equated to a 70% match of the total eligible project cost, though AcenTek will not see a financial return on investment for at least 13-15 years.
Moser says, “Without the public-private partnership with the State of MN and the Office of Broadband Development, this project could not happen, and we could not have been successful without CEDA and our other partners in the application, Houston County and the engineering firm, Cooperative Network Services. We are grateful for CEDA’s professionalism and attention to detail in putting this application together.”