State investment in broadband supports co-op members

State investment in broadband supports co-op members Main Photo

19 Mar 2024

East Central Energy, meeker coperative, economic development, Meeker, East Central

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz recently announced over $50 million in grants to expand broadband access to an estimated 8,900 homes and businesses throughout Minnesota, including areas served by two of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives.

“We’re investing in broadband infrastructure statewide to help thousands of Minnesotans connect to jobs, education, healthcare and their communities,” Walz said. “Helping more Minnesotans get online at high speeds is one of the ways we’re making Minnesota the best state for families, workers and businesses.

Twenty-four broadband expansion projects will receive grants from the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s (DEED) Office of Broadband Development, helping deploy new broadband infrastructure around Minnesota. Using the grant funding, providers plan to expand high-speed broadband — offering speeds of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload — in 25 counties across Minnesota.

Included among the recipients of DEED’s flagship Border-to-Border Broadband Program, through which broadband provider grantees are reimbursed for up to half the eligible cost of deploying broadband infrastructure, are Braham-based East Central Energy ($4,885,809) and Litchfield-based Meeker Cooperative ($590,709).

“Electric cooperatives are rooted in providing essential services to areas that can largely be overlooked by others — it’s our foundation,” said Tom Lambrecht, manager of economic development services at Great River Energy. “By making high-speed internet more accessible to parts of Greater Minnesota, we are opening the door for more people to consider living, working or starting businesses in these communities.”

East Central Energy will use its grant to connect 1,479 unserved and underserved locations (950 households, 89 businesses and 440 farms) with fiber internet service in parts of southern Mille Lacs County and western Isanti County. 

Meeker Cooperative’s project will provide fiber broadband to 124 rural sites in Fahlun Township in Kandiyohi County. The project area includes several businesses and farms as well as a township hall.

“Broadband is an essential resource that not only helps Minnesotan communities attract new business and help existing ones grow and thrive, but also gain and retain the workforce that supports business and community vitality,” said DEED Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development Kevin McKinnon. “Broadband use across nearly all industries and sectors — from high-tech manufacturing to agriculture — continues to grow, and a robust infrastructure gives our state a competitive economic edge.”

Over the last 10 years, DEED has provided nearly $350 million in Border-to-Border or Low Population Density grants, providing broadband access to nearly 112,000 homes and businesses.


East Central Energy recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the first of its members connected to ECE Fiber, the cooperative’s high-speed internet service. Pictured, from left: Minnesota Office of Broadband Development Executive Director Bree Maki, East Central Energy President/CEO Justin Jahnz, East Central Energy Board Chair Joe Morley, and Minnesota DEED Commissioner Matt Varilek.