Improving rural Minnesota through broadband expansion

Rural Minnesota’s access to and adoption of broadband technology has grown steadily over the past few years. The conversation however must continue and adjust so that we can better measure success of this expansion.
Last week, the Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, which I chair, heard several testimonies regarding the state of broadband in Minnesota. The meeting covered a wide spectrum of issues facing Minnesota as we strive to achieve broad access to fast and reliable broadband service throughout our state.
Jack Geller, U of M professor and former President of the Center for Rural Policy Development, described how Minnesota is regressing in broadband speed and access in comparison to other states. Recommendations from the Governor’s Broadband Task Force included: tax credits or grants to encourage broadband providers to expand in unserved/underserved areas, extending current sales tax exemptions to certain broadband-related equipment, and coordinating highway construction and broadband projects so we only “dig once.”
The argument I found most important, however, was that increased high-speed internet access, adoption, and use was vital to diversifying Minnesota’s rural economy and ensuring our businesses stay competitive. Because of the internet, the global market becomes more interconnected every day. We need to make changes now so that our local economy does not fall behind. The recommendations and testimony heard Wednesday are encouraging and I welcome further discussion about broadband expansion across Minnesota.
In addition to growing our online infrastructure, we must look at the quality of roads leading in and out of our communities.
This past week, I sat down with our district’s MNDOT engineer. He updated me on the many projects southeastern Minnesota can expect this year. For our area, MNDOT has six road improvement projects scheduled for this construction season. I am pleased to inform you that two of these projects are mill and overlay on Highway 65 from Albert Lea through Glenville to the Iowa Border and on Highway 69 from Albert Lea through Twin Lakes and Emmons.
For many years, residents and visitors traveling in and out of Albert Lea have encountered these rocky stretches of highway. I am confident the projects planned for this year will improve the flow of traffic and be a welcomed update to our road system.
Other projects in Senate District 27 include sections of I-90 in Mower County as well as a stretch of Highway 30 in Dodge County. All of these improvements are scheduled for completion this fall.
As always, I value your comments and questions about what is happening here at the Capitol. We have a lot of ideas on the table this session and hearing from people back home will help me make the best choices for District 27.

Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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