Supporters look to MN Senate for broadband funding

MARSHALL – Time is running out for legislation that would help fund the expansion of broadband Internet service in Minnesota, advocates said Thursday. In a conference call with reporters, leaders of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and the Greater Minnesota Partnership said that while the Minnesota House and Gov. Mark Dayton have voiced their support, the fate of funding for broadband infrastructure mainly rests with the Senate now.

A bill which would create a $100 million grant fund to help bring better Internet access to unserved and underserved areas of Minnesota was introduced in the state Legislature this session. Dayton had announced he would support the legislation, and the House passed a budget bill that included $25 million for the broadband infrastructure fund. However, CGMC Executive Director Tim Flaherty said the Senate’s proposed budget doesn’t include broadband funding.

“The Senate should not pass up this opportunity to begin funding this critical need for greater Minnesota’s future,” Flaherty said.

As more businesses embrace technology, improving broadband access in Minnesota is crucial for helping to develop the state’s economy, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. He compared it to the impact rural electrification and telephone service had on Minnesota.

“The research is very solid” that improved broadband service helps support economic growth, Dorman said. However, service in greater Minnesota “Is not as robust as needed today, and it’s certainly not what will be adequate for future needs.”

Data from the Greater Minnesota Partnership said about 93 percent of households in Twin Cities metro counties have broadband Internet at download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second, compared to about 46 percent of households in greater Minnesota.

Broadband service also varies widely from county to county. A little more than four percent of households in Lyon County have broadband Internet at 10 Mbps or more, compared to about 10 percent in Lincoln County and 41 percent in Redwood County. In Murray County, it’s a little less than 2 percent of households. In Yellow Medicine County, the number of households getting broadband speeds meeting state goals is zero, the Greater Minnesota Partnership said.

Dorman and Flaherty said they encouraged supporters of increased broadband access in greater Minnesota to contact their legislators before the end of the current session.

“We will be reaching out to senators, and we hope the public reaches out, too,” Flaherty said.