MN Senators table a discussion on broadband

The Bemidji Pioneer takes a looks at the back and forth of the latest broadband bill in MN Senate…

Minnesota lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement Wednesday, April 22, on whether to approve new funding for a state program that expands access to broadband internet in places that don’t have it.

At the center of their debate is a bill introduced in the state Senate this week that calls for a $10 million transfer to the program in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, the bill’s author, said the transfer is needed to address the plight of Minnesotans whose communities do not have reliable internet access but need it in order to live and learn safely under the ongoing, statewide stay at home order.

If enacted as written, the bill would make an additional $10 million in grants available for remote learning and telemedicine equipment. Funding for the broadband program, Westrom said during an online Senate committee hearing Wednesday, would primarily benefit projects in places where families “can’t do their telework like the rest of us can.”

But other members of the Senate Finance committee appeared reluctant to support new funding for the broadband program, saying it doesn’t necessarily relate to the pandemic. They also took issue with the proposed source of the funding: the state general fund.

They decided to table the conversation…

Senators on Wednesday briefly considered amending the bill to omit language on the broadband program but instead voted to table it for further discussion. Several senators said that while rural and remote parts of the state are wanting for internet access, they did not wish to address the problem using emergency funds.

“We all believe that broadband is important. No one is questioning that,” Sen. Bobby Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

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