Session Daily: Broadband plan for Greater Minnesota catching up to speed

Source: Session Daily | Scroll down below for MSBA’s reaction

By Nick Longworth, Session Daily

Is high-speed Internet as important to developing rural communities in 2016 as electricity was in 1916?

A letter in support of HF 2381, sponsored by Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar), argues just that.

The bill would create a broadband Internet access grant program that could offer reliable Internet access to communities across the state with the goal of focusing on those who live in under-served and unserved areas.

“High-speed Internet has become more than a luxury; it’s a utility that we need and require,” said Travis Bonnema, manager of technical services for Jennie-O Turkey.

Approved by the House Greater Minnesota Economic and Workplace Development Policy Committee Thursday, it was referred to the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

“The better job we can do to connect Greater Minnesota businesses and communities, the better off we will be,” said Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge).

Contention in the committee centered on language as to which communities could be grant eligible, and under what qualifications they would be designated “under-served” or “unserved.” Also, what speeds could be made available.

Under-served areas are defined as homes or businesses who lack access to Internet speeds greater than 10-20 megabits per second download, and uploads of five to 10 megabits per second. Unserved areas are those who lack access to more than 10 megabits per second download and one megabit per second upload.

“Right now we are asking Greater Minnesota to get by on significantly less than other areas,” said Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul). “We should use this opportunity to push not only get Internet, but get good Internet.”

Concerns also arose over a provision providing an incumbent provider the right of first refusal of service.

“The right of first refusal already came when the incumbent failed to provide a competitive service,” said Chris Mitchell of the Institute of Local Self Reliance.

An amendment to raise the funding provided in the bill from $35 million to $100 million was ruled out of order by the committee chair, Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), due to the fact that it is a bonding year and not a budget year.

In his supplemental budget announced Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton is requesting $100 million to expand high-speed Internet in Greater Minnesota.

“There is a dramatic need for broadband access across Minnesota,” said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. “We’re just trying to ensure equitable access.”


MSBA’s response

“The House proposal of $35 million is inadequate if we are to provide every business, home and child access to high-speed broadband,” said Denise Dittrich, MSBA’s Associate Director of Government Relations. “We prefer the recommendation of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband of $200 million, while the Gov. Dayton’s budget proposed $100 million. We hope the House’s target will grow as the session negotiations continue.”

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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