St. Paul, MN—Senators Lyle Koenen (DFL-Clara City) and Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) were joined by Senate colleagues and statewide stakeholders at a press conference on Wednesday morning, as they commented on the strengths of the Senate broadband proposal and the importance of broadband expansion in rural Minnesota.
To date, the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program has received $30.6 million over the last two years, leveraging over $41 million in private investment. Combined with the economic benefit of serving 9,300 homes and 930 businesses, money put into broadband has some of the highest returns on investment state governments will ever see.
The Senate DFL’s supplemental budget has included a target of $85 million for broadband expansion, and local support has come from communities all around the state.
Senator Schmit, who has been a leader on broadband for years, noted, “Minnesota’s rural communities are at a severe disadvantage without reliable internet access. It is imperative that we make serious investments in broadband for our rural areas to be fully competitive with the rest of the state – and globe. This investment will have impacts across all sectors within our region including health, business, tourism, learning and agriculture.”
Senator Koenen commented, “As a Senator representing a rural district, the budget debate surrounding Broadband development in rural areas is very important to me. Currently, nearly 20 percent of rural communities don’t have access to sufficient Internet speeds to do business, learn, communicate, or access critical health-related programs. The potential for precision agriculture alone could revolutionize our state’s economy, but only if we have widespread broadband access.”
Senator Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) also joined the press conference: “Rural communities cannot wait for federal money to push larger providers of internet service to upgrade their systems, especially if they are building at the lowest speeds and capacity. We will not know if it will reach our unserved areas and underserved areas will be excluded. The Senate broadband bill allows our local coops and smaller providers access and opportunity to also move quickly to replace outdated broadband technology.”
Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) noted, “Broadband expansion can be this generation’s rural electrification. While growing up, I heard stories from my dad about electricity first coming to the farm and lighting up the house and barn. It transformed their lives and significantly improved their quality of life. Rural broadband expansion will have the same kind of effect. As we connect homes and businesses, it makes rural Minnesota more and more competitive not just in our state, but in our global community.”
Senators Koenen and Schmit continued the discussion of high speed internet with a Twitter Town Hall immediately after the press conference, engaging stakeholders, elected officials, and individuals all around the state at a grassroots level.
Because of its unparalleled ability to promote economic growth in rural communities, the initiative has garnered plenty of attention both at the State Capitol and in Greater Minnesota. The Senate DFL’s $85 million proposal would go a long way toward leveraging federal dollars and building a 21st century infrastructure in all parts of the state.