ST. PAUL, Minn – Legislators from across greater Minnesota have joined together to call for a $100 million investment in broadband. The legislators stress the economic development reach that investment in broadband creates – something they say Greater Minnesota is in need of.
The bill calls for $100 million to be deposited into the Border-to-Border Broadband Account to be given out in grants to projects across the state. Currently, about 22 percent of homes in Greater Minnesota lack Internet connectivity at basic speeds.
“For every dollar invested in broadband in the state, $10 is generated in economic activity. That kind of return on investment just makes sense. Over the past three years Minnesota has invested $65 million into broadband and we’ve seen outstanding success – we’ve helped connect 10,000 homes and more than 1,000 businesses to broadband. Just think about the incredible success we would see with a $100 million investment – we have the power to create real change in Greater Minnesota,” said Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth), chief author of the bill in Senate.
“I’ve promised to work towards diversifying the economy on the Range, and broadband is the infrastructure needed to provide alternate pathways to economic development,” said Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL – Hibbing), chief author of the bill in the House. “To borrow from a line from a film, ‘If we don’t build it, they won’t come.’ We can’t afford to put this off any longer if we want Minnesota to be a destination location for businesses of all types.”
“I’m proud to co-author this legislation. When some of our students must travel into town to the nearest fast food restaurant just to access the internet needed to do their homework, and when roughly 1 in 5 homes in our state lack internet connectivity at even basic speeds, clearly it’s time to respond. All Minnesotans need access to broadband. With broadband investment comes an incredible opportunity for economic development. Broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and therefore we need to support its immediate expansion throughout Greater Minnesota,” said Sen. Nick Frentz (DFL-Mankato).
“My district is largely unserved by high-speed broadband – but I have been grateful to see recent broadband grant development money come into our region. Similar to how electricity was slow to come to the far reaches of the state – broadband is a necessary tool for residents in our region. I am always supportive of programs that foster economic development in greater Minnesota – and investment in broadband is one of the best tools,” said Sen. Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm).
“Minnesota ranks 19th in the US in terms of average connection speed. This is a much lower ranking than we’ve come to expect in terms of being a great state for business, for livability and many other criteria. We can and must do better. I am supporting this $100 million investment because I’ve seen firsthand how this broadband grant money can make a huge difference in a community,” said Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley).
“If we want to support our small towns, and truly make a commitment to greater Minnesota – this is one way we can get there. In order for our students and businesses to compete, all of our residents need access to high-speed broadband. This level of investment can really push us to the next level, which is why I’m proud to co-author this bill,” said Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin).
Mark Erickson represents the small town of Winthrop in the RS Fiber Project as the Director of the Economic Development Authority Director. He says, “The Broadband grant programs represent critical investment in rural Minnesota. Every metric the legislature is charged with monitoring (health care, education, transportation, job creation, public safety, energy efficiency and economic development) is positively affected by the presence of ultra, high-speed fiber networks in our state.
One need only look at Paul Bunyan and CTC in northern Minnesota or Hiawatha Broadband and the RS Fiber Cooperative in the southern part of the state to see the positive effect fiber networks can have on local and regional economies,” explained Erickson, who also serves as Chair of the League of Minnesota Cities Telecommunications Taskforce.