From the MN Broadband Coalition…
Memo To: MRBC Members
Memo From: Nathan Zacharias
Re: Senate Passes Broadband Funding
Senate Passes Broadband Funding 66-0
Good afternoon, Coalition Members:
This update won’t be nearly as long as the typical legislative update we send out, but it’s important you’re aware of some breaking news. A detailed legislative update on the state of broadband at the Capitol was sent your inboxes on May 1.
SF 4494 was debated and passed 66-0 by the Minnesota Senate, clearing an important hurdle on Monday, May 4. The bill includes $8 million for a reimbursement program to school districts that purchase technology for students that lack access to adequate broadband at home during this school year. It also has $2 million that would reimburse health care providers that purchase telemedicine equipment or software to treat patients during the pandemic. Finally, it contains $10 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program targeted at unserved communities.
The funding for schools and health care providers in SF 4494 would come from the federal coronavirus relief account if available, and from the state general fund if federal funds are not available. However, the $10 million for the Border-to-Border program must come from the federal coronavirus relief account or that appropriation is cancelled and no additional funds will be available for the upcoming round of grants. $20 million will be available—regardless of this session’s outcome—from funding that was part of last year’s biennial budget. The Senate’s unanimous action is a good sign that there is broad, bipartisan willingness to send additional funds to the Border-to-Border program this year.
We are now waiting for the House to take action on HF 1507, a COVID-19 relief package that includes funding for broadband, or HF 3029, a standalone broadband funding package similar to SF 4494. In-depth details of these bills can be found in the May 1 legislative update.