Members of the Minnesota Legislature’s minority parties are no strangers to partisanship, but they say lawmakers can find agreement on a host of issues before this year’s legislative session ends in mid-May.
Broadband, federal business loan and unemployment benefit tax relief, and summer school funding are among the Legislature’s shared priorities thus far.
And they go into detail…
“I think this will be the session where the greatest of support is put into rural broadband in the state’s history,” Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, told more than 100 people in a Senate DFL virtual town hall on Greater Minnesota issues Tuesday night.
Frentz said after the town hall he expects even more support than normal from lawmakers who have all faced pleas for help with internet issues in the wake of the pandemic. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pitched spending up to $120 million over the next two years in proposals earlier this year, and a Senate GOP budget includes $40 million for one year of broadband funding.
Frentz said he wouldn’t be surprised to see that target grow during budget negotiations. The bigger question, according to him, is whether that funding goes to wired fiber optic broadband projects or wireless projects.
DFL and GOP lawmakers have split in the past over which kind of broadband to support. Democrats tend to favor wired broadband projects as they’re the most reliable internet options, but they’re also the most expensive broadband networks to install. Republicans tend to favor wireless internet options as they’re cheaper, but critics say wireless broadband networks fail too often.
Lawmakers have heard more testimony this year from wireless broadband providers who say the technology is catching up and offering internet that’s just as reliable as wired connections, which Frentz said has softened stances on spending priorities.
I will make one correction, the current Border to Border grants are open to wireless providers. Changing the legislation won’t change that.