From the MN Broadband Coalition…
Senate Ag Committee Hears $110 Million Broadband Bill
The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee heard SF 3617 on March 7. This bill aligns with one of the Coalition’s top priorities for the year: allocate the remaining $110 million from the Capital Projects Fund to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.
Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) is the chief author of the bill and presented it to the committee. Nathan Zacharias, lobbyist for the Coalition, presented supporting testimony as well as Mike Ahern from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance. The bill addresses more than just the “ask” that the Legislature spend more on the Border-to-Border grant program. It prevents Capital Projects Funds from being diverted to other areas like devices (laptops, tablets, etc.) and community facilities improvements or construction. The Coalition recently learned that the Governor’s Administration intends to use these funds for things other than broadband infrastructure projects, which the Coalition opposes.
The bill was passed from the committee and re-referred to the Finance Committee. Whether this bill moves independently of other spending bills—or even an omnibus bill—is still to be determined. The bill has not yet been introduced in the House, but the Coalition will be lobbying House legislators to get the bill introduced.
The Coalition sent the following letter to state leaders today outlining our support for SF 3617 and the immediate allocation of the remaining Capital Projects Fund dollars to the Border-to-Border account. You can read the letter below:
On behalf of our member organizations, the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition urges you to allocate the remaining $110 million from the American Rescue Plan Act’s Capital Projects Funds to the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The Coalition strongly believes that the funds are best used to connect as many of the hundreds of thousands of Minnesotan households that lack access to broadband. This proposal is reflected in Senate File 3617 authored by Sen. Torrey Westrom and a forthcoming House companion bill.
During a committee hearing of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on February 23rd, the Office of Broadband Development testified that the Administration intends to use the remaining Capital Projects Fund dollars for projects not related to the Border-to-Border Grant Program. This would include money for devices like laptops or tablets as well as community facility projects like constructing or improving libraries and community schools.
The pandemic has taught us that Minnesotans need broadband connections in their homes. Students should not need to rely on libraries or schools to access the internet. Moreover, a laptop or tablet is rendered useless for the purposes of education if a child cannot access the internet in their home. Furthermore, federal funding for digital equity projects like this will soon be on its way to the state through programs in the Infrastructure, Investment, and Jobs Act.
More than ever, we need to remain laser-focused on bringing world-class, highspeed broadband internet to people where they live. The Coalition again asks that you allocate the remaining $110 million in the Capital Projects Fund to the state Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.
Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition
Cc: Commissioner Steve Grove, Sen. Torrey Westrom, Sen. Julie Rosen, Rep. Rob Ecklund, Rep. Rena Moran, Rep. Gene Pelowski, Angie Dickison, Beth Binczik