The Grand Rapids Herald Review posts a letter from Representative Sandy Layman about her efforts to expand broadband…
As a legislator from rural Minnesota, I’m presented with a unique set of ways I can advocate for my district. Years before becoming a representative, one of the main technological issues I faced was a lack of fast, reliable internet access across many rural areas of the state. This issue dates back to when I served in varying capacities related to economic growth including being a board member of the Blandin Foundation, founder of the Itasca Technology Exchange, and Commissioner of the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Throughout my years in economic development, one of the biggest hurdles I’ve seen for many in rural Minnesota has been a lack of access to fast, reliable, broadband internet.
A key to a growing economy, providing equal education around the state, and revitalizing rural areas is by connecting Minnesotans via technology. Broadband through fiber, wireless and other technologies provides the means to engage and compete globally. And, let’s face it, today much of our lives is lived online. Those who are not connected are sidelined.
The lack of broadband-speed internet in rural Minnesota is pretty remarkable. According to the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, almost 27 percent of all households in rural Minnesota did have not have access to broadband internet of 25Mbps/3Mbps. There’s 250,000 households statewide who are stuck without 21st Century-level access to internet. These numbers are stark, but are a reminder of the work we have to do to provide this needed service around the state.
And talks about the difference the Legislature has and is making to close the gap…
The good news is, we’re making progress. Last year, the legislature appropriated $20 million toward broadband funding and leveraged another $34 million in private sector and other investments. Over the last four years, the state has invested $85 million in broadband. With these dollars, the state has provided 33,000 households, 5,100 businesses, and 300 community institutions with broadband access since 2014. We’re seeing significant steps in the right direction, but need to continue our push for increased internet access.
These investments simply make sense for our state government. The broadband program is a public/private partnership where the private sector owns the infrastructure but the public grants make it possible to reach customers that wouldn’t be served under normal market conditions. With the broadband program, the state has determined what acceptable internet speed goals are so that there is equal access across the state.
We’re seeing big returns with this public/private partnership, and I look forward to continuing that this year as I advocate for increased broadband funding. This session, we’re on track to continue investing in broadband expansion. I know this is an important issue for our area – and throughout Greater Minnesota – and will continue to push for rural families, businesses and local governments to have the same fast, reliable internet access as those in the metro.