What will Frontier and CenturyLink do with their new broadband money?

As reporter Tom Robertson in Bemidji pointed out a week or so ago, small phone companies that have aggressively built out fiber optic networks and expanded their high-speed Internet access are worrying that a federal funding shift may force them to curtail these expansions.

Paul Bunyan Telecommunications was the case in point, and officials with the cooperative are worried about a Federal Communications Commission change in how money gets allocated to extend broadband.

But if there are losers in that shift, there might also be winners. Next month we should get a glimpse of who they may be in Minnesota. Outstate Minnesota customers of Frontier and CenturyLink should be paying attention. Here’s why:

The FCC is changing the rules for what has been called the Universal Service Fund, a pile of money aimed at providing phone service to remote areas of the country. It’s being turned into the Connect America Fund and be aimed at, not telephone service, but Internet access. The change is going to take six years but the first step will be providing $300 million to Internet providers in some of the nation’s most underserved areas.

Almost half that money is going to Frontier and CenturyLink, which have until late next month to tell the FCC what they would do with the money.

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