Earlier this week the Governor announced his supplemental budget proposal — including a renewed call for a $100M investment in broadband infrastructure. Of course, this is welcome news for Minnesotans still struggling to access high-speed broadband Internet service essential for life in the 21st century. And it’s a great opportunity for continued partnership among communities, hard-working providers and service cooperatives, and the state.
Next Monday our Senate Jobs, Agriculture, and Rural Development Committee will hear a pair of bills that propose to update our state speed goals per recent Broadband Task Force recommendations, apply the speed goals to our broadband fund parameters, and — most importantly — fund the broadband fund at a level appropriate to the need. Specifically, the bills propose the following:
- Per Broadband Task Force recommendations, set state speed goals at 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026
- Apply the goals to our definition of “underserved” areas as we did in 2014 when the broadband fund was created
- Fund the fund at an appropriate level of $100M to inspire collaborative planning, applications, and deployment across the state
When we created the broadband fund in 2014 we spent considerable time debating how to set eligibility parameters. We agreed to set the definition of “unserved” areas at the level the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognized as its definition of broadband; that level was 25/3 in 2015 — and it was the threshold for “unserved” areas in Minnesota during the 2015 funding round of our broadband grant program. During that round and the one preceding it, MN’s Office of Broadband Development was directed to prioritize these unserved areas in administering the grant program.
For 2016 and beyond, the current Senate language would not change this approach. Rather, we propose to keep the threshold for “unserved” areas the same and continue to prioritize these areas above all others. In addition, we propose to apply the state speed goals to our definition of “underserved” — just as we did in 2014 when we created the fund.
With all that said, it’s important for those with a stake in state broadband funding to remain active in the discussion — both here at the Capitol and also in your respective corners of the state.
If you can, please join us on Monday 3/21 for our 2pm hearing in room 1100 of the Senate Building. And whether here in St Paul or back home, please make an effort to reach out to your legislators and emphasize the importance of providing the full $100M for broadband infrastructure in 2016. Use of Minnesota’s one-time surplus funds for one-time broadband infrastructure needs is a perfect match!