The Institute for Local Self Reliance just released a report that urges policymakers to invest more in the Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant programs and consider economic development opportunities when defining criteria for applications and not just need.
Here’s the executive summary…
Since 2014, Minnesota has been promoting the expansion of high-speed Internet access across the state through its Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program. The program is intended to help bring high-quality Internet access to unserved and underserved areas in Greater Minnesota; without public support, these communities would continue to be left behind.
In its first two years, the state awarded about $30 million to 31 Border-to-Border projects. The program has been well administered but should be modified in two significant ways.
The grant program needs to be funded properly. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband estimates Minnesota’s unmet broadband need is $900 million to $3.2 billion. That level of investment is simply beyond the capacity of existing telecommunications providers to meet without public investment. There is a dire need to dramatically increase funding for the program.
The Broadband Development Grant program is at a crossroads as the Minnesota Legislature, in the waning days of its 2016 session, considers whether to substantially ramp up funding and possibly revise the funding criteria. The Legislature should set a robust goal, increase funding to the grants program, and ensure some of the funds are used to target economic development in Greater Minnesota population centers.
The report goes on to discuss the issue of unserved versus underserved areas (and which the grant funding should support), the incumbent first right of refusal for project funding in their area and the new broadband goals speeds and impact on funding tied to new goals. (Speed goals were 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 Mbps up; the proposed changes are 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.)