The Bemidji Pioneer covered the MN House Committee meeting on broadband yesterday. (Notes and video here.) Broadband advocates spoke to the Committee generally about broadband and the benefits of the “Minnesota Model,” which includes the speed goals, maps, grants and Office of Broadband Development.
The Pioneer caught remarks from testifiers…
Since the state set the goal to get border-to-border broadband by 2022, a state grant program has spent $85.6 million to support 110 projects across the state, which boosted internet access to more than 33,000 people, more than 5,000 businesses and 300 institutions.
The match program has offered a good start in patching together broadband access, but there’s still work to be done to reach some of the most remote areas of the state, Danna MacKenzie, executive director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development said Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“We’re getting into areas that are harder to serve,” MacKenzie said.
And there is a growing pipeline of requests in the cue as the Office of Broadband Development was left with no new funding for the grants last year when then-Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed an omnibus spending bill that included new money.
“Without the state’s grant, I’m not sure we would’ve ever built out to those customers,” Mary Ehmke, president of Kasson-based KMTelecom, said. The company got a 2017 grant to bring high-speed internet to Mantorville. “There’s still a lot more to do.”
Ninety-one percent of homes statewide have access to the internet speeds the state hopes to connect statewide in the next two years. In rural Minnesota, 80 percent of households have that access. And the state is still working with private companies to get the remaining 185,000 households that lack that connection up to speed by 2022.
Businesses in those hard-to-reach areas have struggled to make it with slow or nonexistent internet access. And students have been unable to do their homework because they can’t access assignments online.
“A lack of broadband in rural Minnesota is really creating achievement gaps,” Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL-Hibbing, said. “Once they leave that campus they do not have equal opportunity.”