MinnPost looks at state and federal broadband policies and potential funding

Last week I wrote about the Small Business and Broadband Congressional Field Hearing in Scandia. MinnPost also wrote about it too. Stauber, Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a 1st District Republican, and Rep. Angie Craig, a 2nd District Democrat, are on the House’s Small Business Committee and showed up to the subcommittee hearing on Thursday. MinnPost covered the meeting…

In the U.S. Capitol, there’s been a mixed bag of proposed legislative fixes and changes related to rural broadband, most of them bipartisan. And while Democrats and Republicans have not yet coalesced around a package of bills, there seems to be consensus among members of congress: reliable access to broadband is necessary. And lacking. …

“The deployment of broadband is a non-partisan issue. It’s not a luxury anymore to have high-speed internet. It’s a necessity,” Rep. Pete Stauber, a Republican from Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District, said. “And people understand that. Including my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

They talked about federal support…

Hagedorn said he was in favor of most broadband solutions, but had his eye on using two existing sources of money to help fill in service gaps in the meantime: The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s Connect America Fund has been the agency’s primary vehicle for expanding access to broadband in high cost areas nationwide and the USDA provides grants and loans to rural America through the Farm Bill. In 2018, the USDA announced it was offering up to $600 million to internet providers looking to expand broadband.

Hagedorn said he would like to see changes to USDA rules that may limit speeds in some parts of the country. “Probably what we’ll be able to do is something administratively, as opposed to legislation,” he said.

Craig was a co-sponsor of the Access Broadband Act and is also a co-sponsor on the Accelerating Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019. Her office said the House is currently working on a package of broadband bills.

And mentioned state funding…

Rural broadband has drawn wide support at Minnesota’s Capitol, too, and they appear to have taken more concrete action than Congress. During this year’s legislative session, which adjourned last week, lawmakers mostly debated how much they could afford to spend on the issue.

In the end, they approved $40 million in the two-year budget for a grant program that helps build high-speed internet systems. The achievement was celebrated by lawmakers in the Republican-led Senate and majority-DFL House.

And detractors to funding…

There has been some opposition in St. Paul to government intervention in rural broadband policy. A few lawmakers have argued there are cheaper options than fiber-optic cable, the state’s preference. The approach is costly, yet reliable.

The telecom industry has sometimes fought to stop government broadband projects where private companies already offer some form of internet. And free-market conservative groups also say that government-owned broadband reduces innovation and competition. The Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a conservative think tank, has argued it’s also risky since they may not have the expertise of telecom companies. They have pointed to the crumbling of Lake County’s broadband service as a cautionary tale.

Still, Danna MacKenzie, the executive director of DEED’s Office of Broadband Development, said Minnesota has better broadband access than most states thanks to efforts from Republicans and Democrats.

“To be so strongly supported by all parties really says a lot about their understanding of the importance of this as kind of an underlying issue that touches all the other things they care about — whether it’s K-12, health care, public safety, rural economic development,” she said.

This entry was posted in uncategorized by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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