A bill addressing greater Minnesota broadband access has passed in the Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy committee. Authored by Representative Dave Baker (R – District 17b), the bill provides $35 million in funding for the state’s existing broadband program. According to a Baker press release, the bill is also set to address transparency issues associated with the state’s broadband grant process.
Baker states in his press release: “Expanding broadband access to areas that need it most means more opportunities for families throughout Greater Minnesota and this bill is an important step in bringing internet access in Greater Minnesota into the 21st century.”
Baker’s bill only provides a fraction of the funds Governor Dayton proposed in his 2016-2017 supplemental budget, which called for $100 million to be spent on broadband. If enacted, Baker’s bill (HF 2381) would receive funds from the state’s general fund. In addition, the bill requires that 60% of funds be allocated to areas that are unserved, and 40% of funds to areas that are underserved. The picture below depicts the areas that are served and those that are not by broadband, as well as those that are under-served.
The map displays that massive portions of rural areas are unserved, meaning they have no wireline broadband of at least 25 megabits per second for downloads, and 3 megabits per second for uploads. “Megabits” is a measuring tool for broadband speed.
Clearly there exists a definite difference between the broadband available to those in rural areas, compared to the state’s metropolitan areas. The Twin-Cities, Duluth, St. Cloud, and Moorhead all have strong broadband infrastructures, while northeastern, southwestern, southeastern, and much of central Minnesota remain with little to no broadband service.
Why is broadband access so important to rural communities? According to the Broadband Pathways research project done by The Information Use Management & Policy Institute and the National Science Foundation, “Broadband can overcome geographical and financial barriers to provide access to a wide range of educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities and resources.” In addition, the research project found that increased broadband access can generate new jobs, improve peoples’ interactions with government and businesses, and upgrade public safety systems. For example, business owners in Big Lake voiced their hopes for improved broadband, arguing that it will foster business growth.
Baker’s bill will now be considered by the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee. Subscribe to Alpha News to learn more about rural broadband and HF2381.