The Timberjay reports…
A bill sponsored here last week by Rep. Rob Ecklund (D-International Falls) seeks continued funding for rural broadband projects amounting to $70 million over the next biennum.
The bill, advanced by the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, would change how the state funds projects in the rural areas. Currently, the program, known as the Border-to-Border Grant ,only gives funding through one-time appropriations.
For broadband projects, that has created problems, said spokesperson Judy Erickson, and the new legislation would create ongoing funding for such efforts.
A previous attempt to obtain funding fell short when legislators, in 2017 put funding in a 900-page omnibus bill that Gov. Mark Dayton ultimately vetoed.
Ecklund’s bill would add more funding. The 2017 measure included $20 million, only a fraction of the $70 million in requests that communities proposed.
“We hope this bill will encourage and enable projects on the ground in ways they haven’t been able to do before,” Erickson said.
The bill, however, will not solve how companies are held accountable for the services they provide to small towns and rural areas. Erickson said the coalition plans to address that in a separate piece of legislation, currently being written.
“We do recognize that there are some policy issues that may need to be addressed to solve underserved and unserved areas where we have run into walls,” she said.