U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson met with about a dozen Internet service providers in Detroit Lakes on Friday, Feb. 24, to help solve a nagging problem—how to get high-speed Internet service out to everybody, even rural areas where there is only one home or farm every mile or two.
One possible solution—put funding for it in the new Farm Bill, which would cut red tape, simplify the regulatory and funding process, and put the focus on rural areas where the need is greatest.
They have a plan to get the idea rolling…
About $230 million in federal money has gone to Minnesota for broadband, versus about $35 million in state money, so the federal effort has not been unsubstantial, Klobuchar said. But a sustained effort is needed, with a steady funding source.
Klobuchar will recruit six senators who are focused on rural issues, while Peterson will recruit six similar House members, and the group will work with industry experts to thresh out a feasible funding plan.
Area broadband providers gave their thoughts too..
Mark Birkholz, director of southern markets for Arvig Communications, and Gary Johnson, CEO and general manager of Paul Bunyan Communications in Bemidji, were among a half-dozen or so service providers and others who met with Klobuchar and Peterson at the Detroit Lakes Library.
They had high praise for the Minnesota state agency that works with broadband but not so much for federal agencies.
Federal money is capped and often comes with so much regulatory requirements that an additional staffer must almost be hired to deal with it all, Bickett said.
A big problem is that federal funding from the Universal Service Fund is largely tied to taxes on landline telephones, which are fading away as cell phones take their place. Logically, Internet taxes would replace landline taxes, but there is such fierce sentiment in the U.S. House not to “tax the Internet” that it’s politically difficult to make that switch. …
Federal funding also penalizes Internet service providers if they provide service outside their specific areas, even if a neighbor across the street has no service provider and is begging for broadband.
The Trump Administration has also hit the pause button on one initiative that was about to go into effect to provide broadband to lower income, underserved areas such as Indian reservations.
“We serve three tribes, how do we afford it?” said Johnson, of Paul Bunyan Communications. “It was a lifeline for broadband, we were about to hit go, now there’s a big pause button at the FCC.”