Bipartisan legislation was introduced Monday that would renew Minnesota’s year-old “Border-to-Border Broadband” competitive matching grant fund with $100 million for the next two years. Earlier the same day, Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development and its Office of Broadband Development announced award winners from the grant fund’s $20 million first round.
Despite considerable investments from the private sector, access to vital high-speed Internet networks remains lacking in much of rural Minnesota. In fact, Minnesota is actually losing ground relative to other states. The “Border-to-Border Broadband” matching grant fund seeks to spur on new private and local investment in hard-to-reach or otherwise poorly-served areas.
Citizens, providers, and other stakeholders across Minnesota have voiced their continued concerns over the lack of critical broadband infrastructure. According to Connect Minnesota, over 20% of Minnesota households lack access to high-speed Internet connections in their homes, limiting economic growth and quality of life.
The first round of the “Border-to-Border Broadband” fund was met with great enthusiasm and interest throughout the state. Targeted matching grant funds will enable seventeen new projects to break ground in 2015, extending vital high-speed Internet access to over 6,000 households, 83 community institutions, and 150 businesses. This represents an impressive first step in what needs to be a strengthened and sustained effort.
In his budget recommendation, Governor Dayton proposed new investments in the “Border-to-Border Broadband” fund for 2016, with an additional $30 million appropriation for 2016 alone representing a 50 percent increase between the first and second rounds. (S.F. 439)