Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines broadband issues at Legislative: How much to spend? Where to invest?

Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article on Saturday on the broadband funding, being discussion today at the Legislature. Here are the highlights. What has happened with broadband funding in MN…

To date, state funds have come slowly. Following Dayton’s promise as a candidate in 2010 to deliver border-to-border broadband connections, the Legislature under DFL control in 2014 spent $20 million on broadband expansion. In 2015, after Republicans took over the House, the Legislature coughed up another $10.6 million for the state’s new Office of Broadband Development to distribute.

The state’s investment leveraged about another $41 million in private investment. Combined, that money has helped wire 22 outstate Minnesota cities. Most are very small, like 222-population Beardsley in Big Stone County; 136-population Jupiter Township in Kittson County; and 643-population Littlefork in Koochiching County.

What’s the financial debate today…

The tax dollar tap is about to start flowing more freely. If Dayton and lawmakers can agree on broadband spending this year — a big “if” given the low expectations at the Capitol for the final work product of the politically divided Legislature — then it’s likely to fall somewhere between the $40 million sought by the House GOP and the $100 million that Dayton wants. It could end up as one of the single biggest state expenditures this year.
On top of that, Minnesota is due to get $85 million a year over six years from the federal government’s “Connect America” initiative.

The article also talks about the unserved/underserved debate. Should the money go to the areas that are in the most desperate need or should the Office of Broadband development also look to places where the connectivity is not good enough for economic development. In fact the article tells the tales of two businesses – one that has adequate service and one that does not.

But it the problem who to serve or how much to invest? If there was more to invest, clearly more options could be considered…

Senate DFLers, who have proposed $85 million for broadband expansion this year, are also looking at tweaking eligibility rules for the state grants. Dayton said last week that he’s open to the discussion — but quickly added that the higher spending amounts proposed by he and DFL allies would make those decisions easier.
“If we have sufficient money to move forward we’ll be able to make decisions on a variety of spectrums,” Dayton said. “Let’s look at and see what we can do, and then if we come back in a year or two from now and do it better, more power to us all.”

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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