An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…
Memo To: MRBC Members
Memo From: Nathan Zacharias
Re: Broadband Funding Bill
Broadband Funding Moving in Legislature
It’s been a little over a month since we all met for the Broadband Coalition’s 2020 Day on the Hill event on March 12. Since then, the Legislature took some time off between the Passover and Easter holidays, but has returned and started passing COVID-19 related bills and other urgent items. On Monday, April 20, the Senate introduced SF 4494, a bill to send an additional $10 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program for the upcoming grant cycle. The bill also includes technology-related funding for schools and health care providers as well as two policy tweaks. The House will introduce an identical companion bill soon. The Senate bill will have a hearing in the Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 22 and from there it is expected to go to the Senate floor for final passage.
Here are the details:
- Chief Author Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake)
- Co-authors: Sens. Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake), Bill Weber (R-Luverne), and Mark Koran (R-Forest Lake)
- $8 million for a technology reimbursement grant program for schools
- Program helps deliver temporary internet solutions to students that don’t have access at home so they may participate in e-learning during the 2019-2020 school year.
- Wireless or wire-line technology qualifies.
- One-time appropriation
- Unused funds returned to the Border-to-Border Grant Program on September 30, 2020
- $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
- Program provides reimbursement to licensed health care providers that purchase technology or software to diagnose and evaluate patients during the pandemic.
- One-time appropriation
- Unused funds returned to the Border-to-Border Grant Program on September 30, 2020.
- $10 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program
- This is a separate pot of funding than the $20 million already appropriated in last year’s biennial budget (total available will be $30 million).
- This funding must go to projects in unserved areas, although projects that go through an underserved area to get to an unserved area will still qualify.
- State match adjusted to 55% (up from 50%) if a nonstate entity (township, city, county, nonprofit, school district, etc.) contributes 10% to the project.
- The new “unserved-only” language and funding is one-time.
- If the new funding is not used by June 30, 2021, it is returned to the standard Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program account.
The Coalition came into the session supporting a pair of bipartisan bills that requested an additional $30 million per year. We were optimistic about our chance for additional funding, especially given the $1 billion surplus the state was projected to have. We had positive hearings in the House and Senate. Since our Day on the Hill event in early March, COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. Businesses have closed, unemployment has skyrocketed, and the economic future is not nearly as bright as when we began the legislative session.
Despite this tough economic reality, the Coalition continued to ask the group of bipartisan broadband leaders in the House and Senate for additional funding for the grant program. SF 4494 is a result of these legislators’ commitment to bringing additional funding to the grant program as well as addressing the immediate needs of our schools and health care providers. The Coalition is thankful for their hard work and leadership during these trying times.
We will continue to monitor this bill to make sure it moves through the final stages of the legislative process and, eventually, to Governor Walz’s desk for signature.