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ECE Provides Insight and Plans for Broadband Grant Award

Officials with East Central Energy shared more details after receiving grants for a large-scale fiber-to-the-home broadband internet project.

Last week, ECE received millions in grant dollars from the Border-to-Border Broadband program as part of a historic investment in broadband infrastructure from the state.

President and CEO Justin Jahnz said the nearly $15 million in grants represents just 5 percent of the project’s total scope and focuses on the first phase of their broadband buildout.

According to VP/CIO Ty Houglum, the grants that ECE was awarded are specific to locations in the energy provider's service area that are considered under-served and unserved by broadband providers based on metrics by the state and Federal Communications Commission.

Houglum said residents with broadband that offers 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds are considered served, and anything lower than that falls into the under and unserved categories depending on the internet type and speed available.

"The unserved is really what we focus on, which is what we have a ton of in Kanabec, Pine, and Isanti counties. That's where we are targeting these grants." Houglum said.

In total, Phase 1 will cost $45 million, and ECE will fund the $30 million not covered by grants. Construction for the first phase of the project is slated to start in May and is expected to be wrapped up by June of 2025.

Despite the influx of cash now, Jahnz asks the community to be patient as construction moves forward.

"We are really excited for this project, but it really is just a starting point for us," Jahnz said. "These grants are not going to 100% fund any of our build, and so there will be investment by ECE, and we are committed to our vision of making sure that all of our members have access to high-speed internet. It's going to take some time, and we are going to need people to be patient."

ECE’s plan for the entirety of the project is a five-year build.

The total buildout for the entirety of the project is projected to cost $350 million.

Photo provided by ECE. The color-coded regions represent projects covered by the grants.

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