Shared with permission from the MN Broadband Coalition…
Saint Paul—The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition will once again work to bring additional funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Program that has been one of the driving forces behind rural broadband expansion in the last five years. The Coalition will advocate for $30 million in ongoing annual funding during the 2020 legislative session, including drafting and introducing a bill as soon as the Legislature returns. This figure will make sure we are on track to meet the state’s statutory broadband speed goals for 2022 and 2026.
As you know, in 2018 the Governor’s Broadband Task Force recommended $70 million per biennium be allocated to the grant program. Last session, the Legislature and Governor Walz agreed on $40 million for the grant program in the 2020-2021 biennial budget. Even though the Coalition and many other organizations celebrated the historic multi-year funding as a victory for all those with no or limited access to broadband in rural Minnesota, a $30 million funding gap remains.
During the 2019 grant cycle, the Office of Broadband Development received $70 million in applications. The Coalition believes that an additional $30 million in ongoing funding—bringing the total investment to $70 million for the biennium, matching the Task Force recommendation and requests—would continue to strengthen the economy of rural Minnesota and the well-being of its residents.
Legislature to Convene on February 11, 2020
Legislators will return to the Minnesota State Capitol to gavel in the 2020 legislative session on February 11, 2020 at 12:00pm. The legislative session this year is around one month shorter than the session we had last year, meaning legislators will have only four months to complete their work before the May 18 adjournment. Because they passed the biennial budget during the 2019 legislative session, legislators will shift their focus to a supplemental budget and the state’s capital improvement bill, also known as the bonding bill.
The size and scope of the supplemental budget will depend entirely on whether the state has a budget surplus this year. We learned in early December that the state is on track for a $1.3 billion surplus, but that number will be revised when the February Budget and Economic Forecast is released in early March. If there is a surplus, legislators will have more flexibility to deploy additional funds for state programs. Once they receive the forecast from Minnesota Management and Budget, committees will begin drafting their supplemental budgets. The Coalition plans to make sure that leaders in both the House and Senate know that additional funding for broadband is a top priority for rural Minnesotans.
Governor’s Broadband Task Force Meets
The newly appointed Governor’s Broadband Task Force met for the first time on December 10, 2019 for an introductory meeting at the Department of Employment and Economic Development headquarters in downtown Saint Paul. The meeting was well attended and two additional meetings on January 24 and February 18 have been scheduled. The Coalition will likely give a presentation at an upcoming meeting to outline our 2020 priorities and introduce the Coalition’s work to the Task Force, but for now that is TBD. We are very excited to work with the new chair, Teddy Bekele, as well as all the appointees—including several MN Rural Broadband Coalition members.