ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Broadband providers serving 15 rural areas of Minnesota unlocked $11 million of state grants Friday to expand the availability of high-speed Internet.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development announced the recipients in a competitive grant program that has struggled to keep pace with demand. Almost three times more funding was requested than given out.

The grants are intended to help build out broadband to areas without high-speed Internet or without wide access to it.

“Broadband Internet access isn’t just nice,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said in announcing the grants. “It’s necessary for Minnesota businesses to grow and our students to thrive. While these grants are a good start, significant need remains.”

In describing the awards, department officials stressed the impact big and small: A Holmes City expansion in northwestern Minnesota is intended to ensure 32 schoolchildren — some learning at home — can conduct research or participate in team projects; one near Wadena is expected to result in tele-health availability in an area facing a shortage of senior and mental health workers; a southwestern Minnesota expansion would improve service for more than 3,000 farm-related businesses and 6,000 rural residents across nearly 30,000 square miles.

All told, officials said some 9,000 households, 4,000 businesses and 100 community institutions would have access to broadband once the projects are completed.

Successful communities must match their state allocation, which is capped at $5 million.

The largest grant is a $4.95 million award to serve more than 1,000 potential subscribers in small cities and townships in Swift County. The smallest grant is $116,000 to help bring service to 24 households, businesses and other users in Goodhue Township.

This was the second round of grants announced. The first installment stemming from a 2014 legislative allocation saw just shy of $20 million go for 17 projects.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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