Governor backs off funding for broadband but push continues at Legislature

MPR News reports that Governor Dayton is backing off funding for broadband for 2014…

The push for a $100 million upgrade of broadband Internet service in rural Minnesota is underway at the Legislature — without the backing of Gov. Mark Dayton.

Despite a $1.2 billion budget surplus and a funding request from his own task force, Dayton released a revised budget last week that had no money for broadband expansion.

It’s disappointing for folks focused on broadband. I’m glad to see that folks are still pushing forward with the plan…

“I don’t know what’s driving that. It’s a bit of a head scratcher,” said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.

Dorman, a former Republican legislator, said the governor might need more information about the plan. But with goals for universal access to high-speed connections already spelled out in state statute, Dorman said it’s time to move forward.

“I mean, either we mean that we’re going to be in the top five, either we mean that we’re going to be a technologically advanced state, or we don’t,” Dorman said. “Then let’s quit paying lip service to it and say, ‘We’re happy being 23rd in the nation and 174th or whatever it is in the world.’ Other countries are kicking our rear end in this deal too.”

The proposal to establish a $100 million infrastructure grant fund this session came from Dayton’s own task force in a report it released in January. The grants would help providers build high-speed broadband infrastructure in rural areas identified as having the greatest needs.

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and a former DFL House Speaker, said there are many similar grant programs in state government. Kelliher is undaunted by the funding snub.

Dayton’s move isn’t a huge surprise. At the last Broadband Task Force meeting, the Director for Government Affairs at DEED set the stage for a minimized push for funding for broadband from the Governor for 2014, leaving the door wider open in 2015…

The governor will come out with a budget – but that’s not necessarily where he sits with broadband. It seems like a discussion on an infrastructure fund needs to happen before funding is allocating.

Now admittedly those are my notes but I remember when she said it I tried to take careful notes with phrasing because I suspected it forecast a building of momentum for 2014 and a better hope for funding in 2015. Now that being said, I think that the movement for broadband funding is picking up some serious speed this year. (In the last week I’ve seen articles in papers across the state supporting broadband and only one opponent, who seemed focused on no government intervention as opposed to being specifically against broadband.) And the state broadband goal is to become a broadband leader in 2015 – whether that means January or December, it certainly seems much more realistic if funding for improvement happens this year!

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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