State task force recommends $200 million for broadband development

MSBA’s Associate Director of Government Relations Denise Dittrich was appointed to the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband last June. The Task Force was tasked with three jobs: (1) update the broadband speed goals, (2) write a broadband report for Gov. Mark Dayton and (3) make policy recommendations to the governor and the state Legislature.

On January 6, the Governor’s Minnesota Broadband Task Force met in St. Paul to finalize their report and recommendations to the Gov. Dayton.

The Task Force recommends appropriating $200 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program in FY 2016-17. While this figure is a fraction of the total capital investment required to meet the state’s border-to-border broadband objective, it is an important contribution.

After hours of discussion and debate, the Task Force approved a goal for Minnesota’s statutory broadband speed — a goal that no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes will have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. Also by 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes will have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

Dittrich persuaded the Task Force to change the original 2026 goal from 80 percent of Minnesotans to ALL Minnesotans. “We do not want to endorse the digital learning gap, Dittrich said. “In public education, we educate ALL. And all means all need access to high-speed Internet service at home and school.”

The Task Force made a commitment to address making it possible for all Minnesotans to have access to affordable high-speed Internet service for the next report. “If access is not affordable, we will never have universal access,” Dittrich said.

Other Task Force policy item recommendations approved included:

  • Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use. The Task Force recommends that the fund be managed by the Office of Broadband Development at a specific amount to be determined between the Office of Broadband Development and the Legislature that will allow the Office to advance and support programs and projects aimed at promoting broadband adoption and use.
  • Increase telecommunications aid for schools and libraries. The Task Force recommends funding library telecommunications aid at $6.6 million in FY 2016-17 and increasing the telecommunications aid equity for schools to $9.75 million in FY 2016-17. This funding will expand the impact of the program in underserved areas of the state and help ensure every person has access to reliable broadband service.
  • Expand sales tax exemption for telecom equipment. The Task Force recommends that policymakers expand the existing sales tax exemption for telecommunication equipment to include additional equipment, including fiber, conduit, poles, wires and cable that would assist in future-oriented investments of network development.
  • Reform regulations of Minnesota’s telecommunications industry. The Task Force recommends reforming the regulatory framework underlying Minnesota’s telecommunications industry to reflect the modern communications era, bringing regulatory certainty, competitive equity and relevance to an industry in the midst of dramatic change, while addressing consumer protections.
  • Review existing permitting criteria to see where there might be opportunities for efficiencies. The Task Force recommends an administrative review of existing permitting requirements impacting broadband network deployment to determine where there may be opportunities to ensure the most efficient processes are in place. Uncertainty over permitting timelines and requirements can delay or prevent network deployments from moving forward.

 Visit http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/task-force for information about the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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