Mesabi Daily News reports…
Broadband connectivity has plagued rural areas and the Iron Range for a number of legislative sessions, even as technology use has increased tenfold in education, business and health care, to name a few industries.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, hopes to change that. He unveiled a bill Wednesday to expand high-speed broadband in Minnesota through a two-year $70 million investment. The bill was part of the “Minnesota Values” agenda released by House Democrats pm Wednesday and based on a plan developed by the caucus in September.
“Broadband is more important today than ever before and will play an increasingly important role in the lives of Minnesotans for decades to come,” Ecklund said in a news conference. “While significant progress has been made, we still have work to do to make sure all Minnesotans have access to high-speed connections.”
His House 3A district, which includes International Falls and Ely, are among the most remote in northeastern Minnesota and lagging behind in connectivity. As a whole, rural areas are vastly underserved by high-speed broadband, according to a 2018 report by the Minnesota Broadband Taskforce.
In that report, the taskforce said just 79 percent of people have access to speeds of 25Mbps down and 2 Mbps up in rural Minnesota, compared to 91 percent statewide. The state’s goal of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up reaches just 49 percent of rural Minnesotans.
Ecklund is proposing to fund the connectivity upgrade through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which is a competitive program providing matching grants for internet providers to expand access across the state.
“Expanding broadband expands educational opportunities through programs like distance learning, enables our great Minnesota businesses to compete in today’s global economy, and helps people stay in touch with health care providers to receive care and monitor their health conditions,” Ecklund added. “Future technologies will rely on high-speed connections as well.”
Since 2014, according to the House DFl, the state has funded $85.2 million and used $110.6 million in investments to better broadband across more than 34,000 homes, 5,000 business and 300 community institutions.
The bill was part of 10 unveiled Wednesday by House DFL leaders, including a proposal to let all residents buy into the MinnnesotaCare health program, which is currently reserved for the working poor.