Mankato Free Press Looks at various Broadband bills and issues

Mankato Free Press reports

GOP and DFL senators presented largely similar proposals before a Senate agricultural policy committee Wednesday that would call for $120 to $150 million spent over the next two years on broadband projects, with at least $30 million to $50 million going toward projects in unserved or underserved communities. That amount is largely in line with a House DFL broadband proposal made earlier this year.

They do a deeper dive into on of the bills (SF 1186)…

Draheim is calling for $50 million in grants to be spent in unserved or underserved areas throughout the state over the next two years. He’d also like the state to update its broadband service maps to differentiate between wired and wireless technology connections, as well as mandate state officials to conduct on-the-ground tests of broadband speeds throughout Minnesota.

They mention how similar the various bills are but also mention some of the barriers and controversies happening in broadband funding.

They allude to some CAF funding rounds…

Critics point out some federal grant programs come with matching fund requirements for communities and internet service providers, which state money can help address. In addition, some federal programs don’t meet Minnesota’s broadband speed goals of 25 megabits per second downloads and 3 mbps uploads by 2022, as well as 100 mbps downloads by 20 mpbs uploads by 2026.

They address RDOF projects in Minnesota…

One company, Nevada-based LTD Broadband, received about $312 million for broadband projects across the state. Yet experts say LTD Broadband is ill-equipped to tackle so many projects at once and may not pass federal requirements to get their projects going, leading some local officials and businesses to ask the state to fund broadband proposals in areas where LTD projects are set to start.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update: Senate Hears Broadband Bills

An update from the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

Senate Hears Three Broadband Funding and Policy Bills
Saint Paul, Minn.—The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee heard SF 22, SF 946, and SF 1186 during its meeting today. You may recall our summary that was sent out earlier this week that outlined the bills currently moving through the legislative process.
Three of those bills were heard today:

  • SF 22 (Bakk) Broadband Funding
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
  • SF 946 (Westrom) Broadband Funding + Unserved Targeting
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
    • $30 million, biennial targeted to unserved areas
    • Projects that must go through an underserved area to get to unserved area would qualify
    • State match may be up to 55% if 10% comes from a non-state entity.
    • Language from last session/special sessions
  • SF 1186 (Draheim) Mapping Changes + Funding
    • Annual mapping contract, must collect data from “wired and wireless” providers, make maps public by April 15, annually.
    • $50 million, biennial one-time funding
    • Unserved only
    • “Must not be used in areas scheduled to be built out through federal assistance”

The Coalition submitted a letter to the committee outlining our testimony and position on the three bills. (you can read that letter here) We wrote in support of SF 22 and SF 946. We could not fully support SF 1186 because of the clause that prevents the state from investing in areas that are scheduled to receive federal assistance. We know that federal programs have not always met the high standards that the Border-to-Border Program has in place, particularly when it comes to broadband speeds.
All three bills were laid over for possible inclusion in a forthcoming committee budget bill.
We want to thank all three bill authors for continuing to keep broadband front-and-center at the Legislature as well as Sen. Torrey Westrom for dedicating time in his committee to hearing the bills. The next step is the February Revenue Forecast which will be revealed Friday morning (2/26). We will find out what the state’s finances look like and get a better idea in the coming weeks what the state budget will look like. Stay tuned for an update at the end of the week.
HF 686, Electric Cooperative Easements Bill Heard in House
Rep. Rob Ecklund’s bill that would allow electric cooperatives build broadband network on existing electric easements was heard today by the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee. The bill was updated by the author to include several provisions, including clauses that require property owners along the easement to be notified by mail and allow for up to six months for property owners to take legal action against cooperatives over the easement.
The bill was laid over by the committee so that stakeholders could continue to work on their differences and come to an agreement on the bill.

MN Broadband Task Force Feb 2021 Mtg Notes: Leg updated, Electric Coops and American Connection

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force met online today. I have recorded the session below. It requires quite a MacGuvyer setup, which means the sound quality can be less than perfect but here it is. (I’ll post a picture for your amusement.)

They got an update on various bills that have been introduced in Minnesota:

  • HF686/SF1304 – Existing easements held by rural electric cooperatives to be used to provide broadband service authorization
  • HF14/SF22 – Broadband grant program money transfer deposit authorization ($120M from Senate & House)
  • SF945 – Broadband grant program funds transfer- to be heard in Senate on Wed at 3pm
  • SF946 – Broadband grant program funds transfer ($120M plus $50M for unserved areas and requiring less match)
  • SF1186 – Broadband grant program appropriation

Task Force member Brian Krambeer talked about his work at MiEnergy and how and why a electric cooperative might get into proving service. At a high level the answer is twofold: the infrastructure makes providing services easier and their customers want/need it. As he pointed out, providing broadband is a treat; they are bringing services to people who thought they might have to move to get the broadband they need.

The Task Force heard about the work of American Connection a collaboration of 143 organizations (including Land o’Lakes) committed to promoting:

  • Robust investment in broadband at a federal level
  • Federal coordination of that investment working with state and local resources
  • Better mapping

The have done a lot as corporate citizens to get broadband to rural areas, especially during the pandemic. There membership is responsible for 2,900 free hotspots in 49 states. That night look like Land o’Lakes installing a wifi spot in their parking lot for neighbors to access. One of the things that has surprised them is the lack of rural readiness to react to federal opportunities.

Finally the Task Force talked about how they would work in 2021 and the subcommittees that they would form. Many members were interested in being involved in multiple subcommittees – but learned that when too many join any one committee it triggers the need to adhere to open meeting regulations, which means they would have to invite the public in and at least share notes after the fact. The image below outlines their proposed committees and topics based on response form the last meeting.

Sen Westrom introduces MN Broadband grant bills: $120M for biennium (SF945 & SF946)

As reported in the Journal of the Senate for Feb 11

S.F. No. 945: A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; transferring money for the broadband grant program. Referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy. Senator Westrom introduced—

S.F. No. 946: A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; transferring money for the broadband grant program. Referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy.

Details for SF945

A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; transferring money for the broadband grant program.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.

$60,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $60,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396,
subdivision 2.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Details for SF946…

A bill for an act relating to telecommunications; transferring money for the broadband grant program.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1. BROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.

(a) $60,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $60,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396, subdivision 2.

(b) $15,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $15,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396, subdivision 1. This transfer must be used only to provide broadband service in unserved areas, except that money from the transfer may be used to place broadband infrastructure, as defined in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.394, in underserved areas. Notwithstanding the limitation in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395, subdivision
7, paragraph (a), the grants are available for 55 percent of total project cost if the grant is matched by ten percent or more from a nonstate entity. The nonstate entity providing the match may include but is not limited to organized townships, cities, counties, foundations, nonprofits, school districts, or higher education institutions.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Senator Mark Koran Applauds Broadband Expansion in Chisago County

From the Minnesota State Republican Caucus

1,001 homes, farms, and businesses in Chisago County will soon have access to high-speed broadband access. That is thanks to a partnership between the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and Midco after the company won a $1.1 million auction to expand service.

Senator Mark Koran (R-North Branch) applauded the partnership and issued the following statement:

There is no denying high-speed internet is now a utility that communities must look to expand and make available for their residents,” said Senator Koran. “The COVID pandemic has only made that reality more clear as Minnesotans have become reliant on an internet connection for work, school, medicine, socialization, and entertainment.  In Greater Minnesota, far too many folks still don’t have access to high-speed internet, but with programs like the RDOF and an increased emphasis at the Capitol ending that disparity is within reach.”

Construction in Lindstrom and Chisago Lake Township will begin this year and some locations covered by the RDOF award will begin receiving broadband by the end of the year. Midco will serve most of Chisago County’s new service areas with fiber broadband services capable of delivering 5 Gbps of download and upload speeds. Additionally, the regional communications company to serve thousands of additional new homes and businesses in the County in the coming years.

High-speed internet access is critical to economic opportunity, job creation, education, and civic engagement. RDOF will direct up to $20.4 billion to expand broadband in unserved rural areas.

 

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update: Additional Broadband Funding Bills Introduced in Senate

From the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

Additional Broadband Funding Bills Introduced in Senate
Saint Paul, Minn.—Two broadband bills were introduced on Tuesday, February 10 in the Minnesota Senate. Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow lake) authored both bills, SF 945 and SF 946. They were introduced and referred to the Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee where they will likely receive hearings in the coming weeks. Sen. Westrom is the chair of that committee.
SF 945 contains $120 million per biennium in ongoing funding for the Border-to-Border grant program. SF 946 also contains the same $120 million funding and has an additional $30 million ($15 million per year) specifically for unserved areas of the state. The total funding for SF 946 is $150 million.
The bill language that sets aside $30 million to unserved areas of the state is identical to a bill the Coalition worked on during the 2020 sessions. It contains the caveat that projects needing to go through an underserved area to reach an unserved area would qualify for these funds.
The Coalition is incredibly pleased to see strong interest in broadband funding in both chambers, and thanks Sen. Westrom for introducing these bills. Rep. Ecklund’s HF 14 has grown to 12 coauthors and Sen. Bakk’s SF 22 now has all five slots filled: Sens. Tomassoni, Eken, Rarick, and Jasinski are coauthors. We look forward to the upcoming conversations in House and Senate committees.

Hutchinson to benefit from MN Broadband grant (McLeod County)

Litchfield Independent Review reports

The Hutchinson area received a share of $20.6 million the Minnesota Legislature dedicated to improve broadband across the state.

The local grant, which creates a partnership between Nuvera Communications and the state, is for $169,369, with a project cost of $423,423 and a $254,054 local match. As part of the ongoing Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program — which was created in 2014 and most recently funded for 2020 and 2021 — the project is meant to bring service levels to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, according to a state press release. These speeds exceed the state’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals. The partnership, which is described as a “last-mile project,” aims to serve 42 unserved and five underserved locations in the Hutchinson area of McLeod County.

“While most people have come to expect reliable and affordable internet connections, many places in our state remain at a disadvantage in that regard,” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, said in a statement. “The increased reliance upon internet services during the COVID-19 pandemic only underscores the need to smooth out rough patches and complete last-mile projects in our state. The Legislature has done well to fund the Border-to-Border program, and it is good to see local awards have been earned.”

Nearby Union Grove Township in Meeker County is also set to benefit from the grant program. A partnership with Meeker Cooperative aims to improve speed levels to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, which also meets or exceeds Minnesota’s 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. The construction of a fiber-to-the-premise high-speed broadband network is meant to provide businesses and farms in the area access to e-learning, telemedicine, precision agriculture tools and other services.

Lynd MN getting better broadband through Woodstock’s MN Broadband grant (Lyon County)

The Marshall Independent reports

We’ve been trying for the grant for three years. We looked at it multiple ways,” said Terry Nelson, general manager of Woodstock Communications.

On Jan. 28, Woodstock Communications learned it had received one of 39 Border-to-Border Broadband Grants awarded statewide. The $325,548 grant will help make it possible to extend fiberoptic cable to 203 homes, businesses and community buildings in Lynd.

The project will significantly improve internet speed in the community, Nelson said.

“It’s going to be fantastic. Hopefully it will help bring businesses into Lynd,” said Lynd City Clerk Sue Paradis. Having reliable internet access has become a vital part of both school and work, and Paradis said the COVID-19 pandemic has really driven home its importance. “There’s a lot of people who work from home now.”

Nelson said the plan will be for Woodstock Communications to start the excavation to lay fiberoptic cable in Lynd this spring or summer. A lot of the timing will depend on how quickly Woodstock can get the needed cable supply, he said.

“We’re pretty much sticking to the city limits of Lynd,” including the housing developments extending north past the Savannah Oaks golf course, Nelson said.

Folks who have been watching the State (Border to Border Broadband) grants versus the federal RDOF funding, will especially appreciate Woodstock’s process, starting with getting the community involved…

“We had to show there was a need in the community,” he said.

Nelson said current internet speeds in Lynd range from five to 25 megabits per second, “But a lot of it is inconsistent.” With the new broadband project, speeds would be up to a gigabit per second, he said.

Nelson said Woodstock Communications sent out letters to Lynd residents to notify them of the project, and he planned to meet with members of the Lynd City Council to share more information on. Updates on the Lynd broadband project will also be posted on Woodstock Communications’ Facebook page, he said.

Scott County Project gets MN State grant to serve part of Scott, Rice and Dakota Counties

The Belle Plaine Herald reports

Rep. Brian Pfarr, R-Le Sueur, announced that state funding is being awarded to expand broadband access in New Market and Cedar Lake townships.

The award was issued through the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program, administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

New Market and Cedar Lake townships in Scott County are part of a project that includes Wheatland and Webster townships in Rice County and Eureka and Greenvale townships in Dakota County in receiving $431,260 in a funding partnership with the state of Minnesota and Nuvera Communications. The project will serve 103 unserved and 178 underserved locations in those communities.

“Our families and businesses depend on affordable and reliable broadband access,” said Rep. Pfarr. “COVID-19 has only highlighted the importance of high-speed internet as more people live and work from home. The Border-to-Border program is critical to expanding broadband access in our communities, and I am so pleased to see that our neighbors in New Market and Cedar Lake townships will be served in this project.”

A look at how RDOF impacts the State Grant-funded project in Cook MN

The Ely Timberjay pulled the thread of conflict in Cook Minnesota where a MN broadband grant was impacted by federal RDOF funding plans. It’s a story we’ve seen in Le Sueur (and other areas) as well. I hope the details below help tell the story again. The high level issues have been discussed. In short – communities and providers worked together to submit proposals for MN State grants. Then federal RDOF funding was announced (providers were selected to submit long form applications for their projects) and areas within the federal selected areas were disqualified for state funding. (Some were able to change their applications; some couldn’t do that.)

Here’s how it played out in Cook, MN.

Good news for Paul Bunyan and Cook…

Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications is set to receive $311,254 from the state Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant program to help fund the project, which is estimated to cost almost $700,000. Paul Bunyan would foot the bill for most of the difference, along with an $8,000 partnership contribution approved by the Cook City Council last August.

But the news could have been better. The original grant application for the City of Cook was for $790,575 for 345 passings (86 Unserved 259, Underserved).  It was reduced to $691,675 for 311 passings (57 Unserved, 254 Underserved) because of a conflict with possible federal funding …

However, [Steve] Howard told the Timberjay on Tuesday that there’s one more hurdle to clear before green-lighting the project, a hurdle created by a conflict between state and federal broadband funding programs that threatens to compromise other area broadband projects as well.
Howard said that Paul Bunyan had to scale back the size of its original proposal because the area overlapped in places with census tracts covered by the federally-supported Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. In December, the Federal Communications Commission awarded Nevada-based LTD Broadband nearly $312 million to develop broadband systems for tracts throughout Minnesota, including those bordering Cook.
Minnesota officials won’t allow Border-to-Border funds to be used for locations in RDOF tracts in order to avoid duplication of funding and to develop services in other areas. Since LTD Broadband has RDOF funding for those tracts locked in, Paul Bunyan would have to foot the full bill for locations they originally anticipated would be covered by Border-to-Border funds. Therefore, Howard said, they had to drop some of the proposed service locations outside Cook city limits from the project.

The decision in federal funding, means changes on the ground…

Howard said he notified city officials of the changes on Tuesday and is awaiting a response indicating if the city still wants to move forward with a smaller project at the same $8,000 commitment.
The system would provide first-time broadband capability to 57 customers and significantly upgraded broadband to 254 more locations, both residential and commercial. The vast majority of those locations are in Cook proper but some locations outside city limits are still included in the proposal because Paul Bunyan determined keeping them while assuming all the costs for their development was economically viable.
Operating at ultra-high speeds of 1Gbps, the system will be almost nine times as fast as the highest currently advertised speed of 115 Mbps by troubled Frontier Communication, a wire-based DSL service with extremely limited access in Cook. Broadbandnow.com estimates that 70 percent of residential locations in Cook do not currently have access to high-speed broadband service.

Without funding local providers are not able to invest…

Howard told the Cook council last August that the reason Cook and surrounding rural areas didn’t have widely available broadband was that companies couldn’t afford to build those systems without government support. The Border-to-Border award makes the Cook project possible for Paul Bunyan; without it, there would be no project.
Greenwood Township has been working with CTC Internet on broadband possibilities, although getting residents to respond to a needs assessment survey has been challenging. Now that LTD Broadband has secured access to federal RDOF funds and no state money is available, the likelihood of CTC Internet making an enormous investment of its own cash in a broadband system for the township has evaporated.

Two projects in Rice County get MN State grants – RDOF impact in other areas may have helped them

Faribault Daily News reports…

Two crucial rural broadband projects backed by the Rice County Board of Commissioners were among those funded last week through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Border to Border broadband grant program.

More details on the projects…

The larger of two local projects funded is spearheaded by Nuvera, a Prior Lake-based service provider. It will serve 103 unserved and 178 underserved locations in Wheatland and Webster townships in Rice County, as well as portions of Dakota and Scott counties.

One hundred and six of those homes will be in Rice County, which extended $200,000 in CARES Act dollars to the project in October. In total, the $1.2 million project will be funded about on third by DEED and two thirds by local match dollars.

Blue Earth-based service provider BEVCOMM received a bit over $200,000 for its roughly $525,000 project, which will serve approximately 14 unserved and 94 underserved locations in portions of Rice, Waseca, and Steele counties. That project is backed by Rice County’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which extended a $15,000 zero interest loan to the company in September. In addition, the county sent a letter of support for the project to DEED.

County Administrator Sara Folsted said she was surprised to see both projects funded. While both were certainly worthy, she noted that only about half of all project applications are approved — and Rice County has often been overlooked in favor of even more “needy” areas.

They note that disqualification of other areas because of  potential RDOF awards to LTD Broadband may have helped Rice County…

As Grove noted, one factor helping projects like Rice County’s may have been that proposals covering areas already included under the federal government’s recently announced Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grants were not eligible for consideration. That’s a point of frustration for Nathan Zacharias and other members of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. Zacharias, a lobbyist with the MRBC, noted that it could take until 2027 for some projects to pan out.

Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative get state grant to serve Farm Island Lake (Aitkin County)

Aitkin Age reports on a recent Border to Border grant in the area…

The Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative was one of several organizations named recipients of a Minnesota State Broadband Grant last week.

The amount of the grant is $198,607, with a local match of $242,743. The total estimated cost of the project is $441,350.

MLEC will bring 1 GBPS speeds to 84 homes and one business, which exceeds the state’s 2022 and 2026 speed goals.

The project area is located on the southeast side of Farm Island Lake.

According to a press release from MLEC, the Phase 4 project will use symmetrical fiber-to-the-home internet service.

“FTTH is the fastest and most reliable Internet available,” a spokesperson for MLEC said. “We are excited to, once again, partner with Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) on the construction of this project and expand our MLEC fiber internet network.”

Local policymaker is happy…

State Rep. Dale Lueck said he was pleased to see broadband funding reaching the area.

“The state Border-to-Border Broadband program continues to be a bipartisan effort led by rural legislators to build out rural internet service into the unserved and underserved areas in Minnesota,” he said.

MinnPost outlines conundrum with State vs Federal broadband funding

The MN Broadband grant recipients were announced on Thursday. While the announcement is always bittersweet, which is unavoidable when there a winning and losing communities. This time around the announcement is also controversial because 10 applications were taken out of the mix because those projects are located in areas that are now potentially eligible for federal funding (RDOF). MinnPost picks up on that issue…

That’s because Gov. Tim Walz’s administration won’t award state money for projects where telecom companies won more than $408 million in federal grants to provide new internet service across swaths of northeast, central and southern Minnesota. The biggest federal grant winner was the controversial LTD Broadband, a company the governor’s own broadband task force is skeptical can meet its promises for a huge range of projects.

State officials say it could be a waste of taxpayer money to subsidize internet where another company plans to build infrastructure with other grant funding. And LTD Broadband maintains it can deliver a huge surge in broadband service in Minnesota. But some local developers say LTD’s failure, or even success, could delay broadband internet for areas they could quickly serve.

“Communities in Minnesota have worked diligently with providers to develop applications and had shovel-ready projects that could have been built as soon as this summer if they received a state grant,” Vince Robinson, chairman of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, said in a statement. “Now, communities that applied for state grants but were included in (federal) auction areas could have to wait up to six years before they receive service.”

They spoke to Barbara in Le Sueur about being in an area that is no longer eligible…

Barbara Droher Kline, a broadband consultant working with Le Sueur County, said the county had applications rejected by the state for two broadband projects for roughly 500 homes in areas that could potentially be served by LTD. Both are next to parts of the county where the county and other partners built fiber infrastructure with $547,000 from the federal stimulus CARES Act.

Droher Kline said about two-thirds of eligible areas in Le Sueur County are now covered by LTD’s winning bids, which means they may get broadband, but it also may take years. She suggested the state ask the feds to withdraw RDOF funding in areas where the state program can build infrastructure quickly. “It would have been a drop in the bucket (for LTD) and we’d have fiber in the ground this spring,” Droher Kline said.

The recent grants were also mentioned in the following places:

Letter to Editor supports Rep. Rob Ecklund and Sen. Tom Bakk bid for broadband funding in Minnesota

The International Fall Journal posts a letter to the editor in support of legislators supporting broadband grant funding…

In today’s world, economic development in rural areas needs a lot of serious attention. Young people go off to vocational schools, colleges or to find jobs in other areas. Downtown areas in rural communities have a hard time to stay afloat without a pandemic and worse during a pandemic.

Rep. Rob Ecklund and Sen. Tom Bakk understand that and have taken the lead in the Minnesota Legislature to bring funding to rural areas that build internet infrastructure. Broadband internet is the future. It makes it possible for many to work from home, not have to leave their communities and possibilities for businesses to thrive and grow. This pandemic surely has shown us the importance of the internet for students and their families.

Duluth News Tribune applauds big State broadband investment

Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board writes…

Broadband has kept us connected and has kept our economy and lives at least limping along until the pandemic can give way to a return to something resembling normalcy.

So Minnesotans can greet this news from St. Paul during these first days of legislative session with optimism: Lawmakers are working on continued funding to keep pushing internet access deeper into the state’s rural reaches and to keep improving connection speeds everywhere.

They get into the numbers…

Last year, lawmakers allocated $40 million, one of the largest investments in internet access in state history, a reflection of the urgency posed by the pandemic.

“We found out it wasn’t nearly enough,” Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls, the broadband bill’s lead sponsor, said in an interview last fall with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “There were $79 million worth of requests for projects. So we know there’s more work to do.”

With funding requests only growing, Ecklund this session has introduced a $120 million state investment over two years — $60 million annually. The state’s broadband matching grants program would receive the money and use it to leverage private dollars to reach speed and connectivity goals set statewide. This week, Gov. Tim Walz’s budget proposal included $50 million a year for the biennium for broadband.

Unfortunately, Walz’s budget is for $50 million for one year. That’s an important distinct first because of the obvious difference in amount but also because the MN Broadband Task Force has recommended $60 million per year ($120 million per biennium) on an ongoing basis so that communities and providers have time to plan to invest and build.

Even if Ecklund’s $60 million per year or Walz’s $50 million per year aren’t what wind up approved and allocated this session for broadband, an appropriate dollar figure can be negotiated. Minnesotans can be encouraged that a commitment in St. Paul to improving internet access and connection speeds remains strong on both sides of the aisle. We also can be encouraged that $7 billion has been earmarked for broadband efforts nationwide from federal COVID-19 relief funds. Minneosota certainly stands to receive its share.

“We can’t leave people behind,” Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, said in a story in the Mankato, Minnesota, Free Press this week about broadband funding.