MN Senate moves broadband bill SF4494 out of Finance Committee to Senate Floor

Right about the same time the MN Broadband Task Force met today, the Senate Committee on Finance also met to discuss Senator Westrom’s SF4494 bill: COVID-19 telemedicine equipment grant program establishment; distance learning broadband access grant program establishment; appropriations.

On the highest level – the bill intends to provide funding for broadband via:

  • $8 million for a technology reimbursement grant program for schools
  • $2 million for telemedicine equipment reimbursement program
  • $10 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program

The discussion today related to the latest amendment. It was a delete all amendment, which shifted source for the $10 million to broadband grants to federal funding. (Paid in advance by MN, and paid back when federal funds come in.) Also there’s a focus on unserved areas over underserved to receive funding. They also removed a first-come, first-served approach to applications.

The irony of the meeting happened when Senator Westrom’s broadband connection kept cutting out. He turned off his video, which can be a good fix for participating in online conversation, Unfortunately regulation requires that the speaker be seen as well as heard during these State policy discussions.

Q: with changes on school-related access, which school districts will be impacted?
A: the hope is to reach unserved areas.

The intention is to allow for the schools to come up with quick fixes but that the grants remain for long-term solutions.

There is a lot of discussion on unserved vs underserved which morphed into a discussion on affordability for households especially since affordability is a concern that straddles urban and rural counties. Some want affordability to be as important as accessibility – especially when it comes to providing access to students. Some think the Office of Broadband Development focuses strictly on deployment.

There was some recognition that more funding would solve the debate between accessible and affordable.

There was some discussion on the importance of tracking and allowing “mobile wireless” with the grants.

They vote and the bill goes to the Floor.

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