Minnesota lawmakers this year have said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for universal access to quality internet as many residents worked or attended school from home.
In response to the lack of adequate broadband in parts of the state, especially rural areas, legislators agreed to spend $70 million on a state grant program that aims to build high-speed internet infrastructure across Minnesota.
The windfall, likely paid for by the stimulus plan approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year, isn’t enough to completely close internet disparities that have long plagued Minnesota, and the state may still miss goals for broadband speed and distribution set for 2022. But if legislators approve the cash in a special session later this month, it would be the largest infusion of money into the program since it began in 2014.
And some details…
But legislative leaders did agree on $70 million for broadband. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told MinnPost on Thursday the money would come out of a $179 million ARP fund dedicated specifically by the feds for capital infrastructure projects.
Gazelka said they landed on $70 million over the two-year budget because that’s how much lawmakers felt the program could handle, but he didn’t close the door on eventually spending more than $70 million by the time a final budget is passed. “It could be more than that, but that was the minimum that we would do there,” he said.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Friday that legislators are still waiting for more guidance on the $179, and that it’s possible it must all be spent on broadband over several years. “There’s a big question about whether that money can be spent on actually anything else,” Hortman said. “So it might all end up being spent on broadband but we don’t know.”