An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…
State Leaders Agree on $70 Million for Broadband
State leaders announced the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program will receive $70 million over the next two years. The funding is part of a $52 billion two-year budget agreement. Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Paul Gazelka, and Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman announced the deal at a joint press conference this morning, the final day of the 2021 legislative session. The group retreated behind closed doors in May and negotiations ramped up significantly during the last week. They emerged with a deal much like they did during the 2019 session. They touted their ability to work together despite divided government and a partisan political atmosphere.
Funding Source TBD
$70 million is the largest multi-year investment in the program’s history. But whether legislators use federal funding or state funding is still up in the air. The American Rescue Plan guidance that Minnesota received this month explicitly named broadband as an appropriate use for the nearly $3 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery fund in addition to the $179 million Capital Projects fund. However, legislators believe it’s important that the state has some “skin in the game” and that using state general fund revenue to leverage federal funds may be prudent. The Coalition agrees. The funding and potential policy details will likely be worked out by the same Agriculture conference committee that worked together for most of the last month. We anticipate that the broadband funding will be multi-year which will allow communities and the Office of Broadband Development more flexibility.
Special Session in June
There are less than 10 hours left in the legislative session, so lawmakers will need a special session to complete the work. The timeline outlined by negotiators is as follows:
- May 28: fiscal spreadsheets for spending bills are due to leadership.
- June 4: bill language for spending bills is due to leadership.
- June 14: special session to pass bills and vote on Governor’s emergency powers.
What about Policy Changes?
Those who have been following our updates closely know that there were some proposed changes to broadband policy that the Coalition opposed this year, like adding “fixed wireless” to the state broadband definitions. None of these items made it into the conference committee report on policy changes in SF 958 which was just passed 67-0 by the Senate and will be passed by the House later today. In fact, despite having the name “broadband” in the bill title, there are no broadband provisions in the bill. That includes the changes to broadband definitions the Senate debated earlier this session. The Coalition will still monitor the status of the upcoming spending bills to make sure these provisions are not included.