More than 40 broadband infrastructure projects will receive $34 million in state grant money to provide high-speed Internet access in rural Minnesota, officials announced Wednesday.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith announced the grants, which will benefit more than 16,000 households and 2,240 businesses that are hampered by a lack of broadband access across the state. The funding provide up to 50 percent of the cost of developing broadband.

“This expansion of broadband that we are announcing today will level the playing field and expand education, health and job opportunities for thousands of Minnesotans," Smith said in a statement.

The grant program is administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which receives dozens of applications every year.

"Broadband is an important economic development tool that will improve people's quality of life and make businesses more competitive," DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy said in a statement.

A task force created by Gov. Mark Dayton recently recommended $100 million in ongoing biennial funding to continue expanding broadband access. Last year, the task force said that to achieve broadband access statewide, it would cost between $900 million to $3.2 billion.

Rural cities and towns currently jockey for grants from a limited pot of funding. The Dayton administration has proposed $151 million for expanded broadband since 2014, of which $66 million has been secured, according to the governor's office.

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