The Albert Lea Tribune ran a recent report from Senator Dan Sparks (District 27). His definition of broadband of 100 Mbps down and 20 up make me happy. Those are the state goals for 2026. The state goals for 2022 are 25/3 but if we plan to make the 2026 goals we need to start planning now!
While the Senate, House and governor’s office have different priorities, we also know there are issues with wide agreement. One such area is in expanding rural broadband access, as defined by a speed goal of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mbps upload. Broadband has quickly become vital for the success of communities throughout Minnesota. Just as much as physical infrastructure like roads and bridges, digital infrastructure is increasingly vital to the success of small businesses, agriculture, health care, education, and many other industries and sectors.
Just the other day I met with someone who outlined the real need for high-speed broadband access. He told me how he has the best internet option available in his area, and still had to make sure his children were off the internet before he could download documents, attachments, and other materials needed for his work. Even then, download speeds are slower than what should be expected for 2019. It may seem small, but even a short delay can prevent long-term growth and competitiveness for businessmen and women across the state.
Slow internet does much more than stifle rural economies. With telemedicine playing a bigger role in health care, we need fast connections to doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to ensure people can get the care they need. If a slow or poor connection means prolonged pain, we must fix it.
We have made progress on broadband investment. In 2017, we funded $20 million in grants for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Thanks to these grants, there are several parts of the state that have reached the broadband goals, strengthening our state and these regional economies.
However, the program received 70 applications in 2017 requesting over $50 million, and still 252,000 households lack broadband internet with speeds of 100 Mbps/20 Mbps. It’s clear the need continues and while 90.77 percent of households have access to broadband, only 79.26 percent of households in rural areas do. This broadband gap must be closed to ensure our rural communities are not left behind.
The biggest need for continued broadband expansion is sustained funding for the Border-to-Border program. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate, as well as our counterparts in the House to securing this sustained funding. Governor Walz has been a longtime advocate for these types of investments, and I hope he will continue his support of this need in the weeks and months ahead.
Broadband has been a bipartisan issue in my time at the Senate, where we put the needs of our communities first, without letting politics get in the way. We know it’s an economic imperative, and vital for the health and wellbeing of our communities throughout the state. I look forward to working together collaboratively with legislators and advocates in making sure we take another step forward on broadband access in 2019.