The impasse over broadband infrastructure wasn’t as lengthy but it was at times heated.
Minnesota is expecting a windfall of federal money for broadband, but little of it has materialized yet. The Legislature in 2021 approved $70 million for the state’s border-to-border program that subsidizes developers to build in rural areas, where it would otherwise be too costly.
That money came from a $180 million “capital projects” fund within Minnesota’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan, however, and it has been so slow to be finalized by the federal government that the state missed a construction season.
For that reason, and others, the Walz administration pushed for $170 million in state, not federal, spending this year on broadband infrastructure. The Senate GOP proposed using $110 million left in the capital projects fund from the ARP for broadband infrastructure. There has been debate over how to use that $110 million because it can also be used for a few other purposes, like buying devices and equipment to facilitate internet access or certain building projects such as upgrading a library or community health center.
The House DFL, much to the chagrin of the Walz administration and some rural Democrats, officially proposed just $25 million in general fund cash and didn’t release a plan for the capital projects fund.
In the end, lawmakers agreed to spend $50 million in state money over the next three years on broadband grants and approved $60.7 million from the capital projects fund to build or support broadband infrastructure. Walz will decide how to use the remaining ARP capital projects money within the bounds of federal guidelines.
The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus is doing the math a little differently…
The legislation directs over $210 million, the bulk of which comes from federal funds, to improve Minnesota broadband access across the state. This is in addition to the $70 million in federal funds that the legislature directed last session. This includes up to $30 million for the Lower Population Density Pilot Program to connect hard to reach unserved areas, up to $15 million for the Line Extension Program to connect difficult to reach individual homes, up to $15 million for updated broadband mapping, and the remaining funds to the successful Border-to-Border Broadband grant program.
I’ve seen that number ($210 million) used in other places too; but I’m not sure where it comes from – especially if, as the article from MSRC says, this is in addition to other funding. But I do know a lot of people worked a lot of long hours over the weekend to get it done.