Senator Matt Schmit’s (DFL-Red Wing) attempt to encourage the state to invest in broadband infrastructure was part of the final budget package of the 2014 Legislative Session. The Supplemental Budget Bill included $20 million in matching grant funds to spur new investments in broadband infrastructure throughout the state. Sen. Schmit, who has championed the broadband legislation in the Senate, was pleased to see the funding included in the bill, but knows there is much more work to be done.
“Thanks in no small part to the continued engagement of concerned citizens across the state, the 2014 Legislature took a significant step toward improving broadband access in Greater Minnesota,” said Sen. Schmit. “The ‘Border-to-Border Broadband’ fund shows that we’re serious about extending access to essential high-speed Internet connectivity. The initial $20 million appropriation represents a solid down payment on what needs to be a continued commitment to connecting all Minnesotans to broadband – with all the economic and social benefits it affords.”
Over the last legislative interim, Sen. Schmit conducted a 16-city listening tour to discuss the broadband needs of rural communities throughout the state. During the tour, the Senator met with hundreds of Minnesotans who echoed the same message: “The state needs to leverage new sources of capital to connect much of rural Minnesota – where traditional return on investment falls short. Rural communities need local solutions that address unique local challenges and the time to act is now.”
“Given the incredible value of our initial listening tour discussions, the great level of interest in the newly-created ‘Border-to-Border Broadband’ fund, and the urgent need for communities to continue to engage local stakeholders and providers in promoting broadband access and utilization, a round of follow-up meetings should offer additional promise,” said Sen. Schmit. “It’s an exciting time for communities that have struggled with broadband access and we want to take full advantage of the opportunity before us. There’s a lot of work to do and this is just the start.”
The Border-to-Border Broadband grant fund will be administered by the Office of Broadband Development, housed within the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Grants will be awarded to eligible applicants in an effort to promote the expansion of broadband access that currently fall short of state speed goals of 10mbps upload and 5mbps download.
The latest round of community discussions will be held during the week of June 9 – 13, following the schedule below. Additional discussions may be scheduled later this month.
· Monday, June 9 – Aitkin, County Court House, 1pm
· Tuesday, June 10 – Ortonville, Berkner Pizza, 11:30am
· Tuesday, June 10 – Slayton, Center for Regional Development, 3:30pm
· Wednesday, June 11 – Bemidji, Northwest Area Foundation, 11am
· Wednesday, June 11 – Staples, National Joint Powers Alliance, 2pm
· Thursday, June 12 – Annandale, City Hall, 9am
· Thursday, June 12 – Mora, Life Enrichment Center, 12:30pm
· Thursday, June 12 – Balkan Township, 4pm
· Friday, June 13 – Willmar, MinnWest Technology Campus, 2pm