ST. PAUL, Minn. – Last week, state Senator Matt Schmit (DFL- Red Wing) provided keynote remarks to the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) at the group’s annual conference in San Diego, California. The speech, entitled “Broadband Matters: Lessons Learned from Minnesota’s Story” focused on recent gains in Minnesota to create a well-respected Office of Broadband Development and its signature “Border-to-Border Broadband” competitive grand fund.
“Woe is Lake Wobegon,” Sen. Schmit began. “Not all is lovely at the lake: there’s limited connectivity at the cabin, intermittent Internet outside the city, and certainly no ‘broadband in all the land’ – with a whopping 25% of homes in Greater Minnesota lacking access at very modest speeds of 10 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up.”
Recalling Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, Sen. Schmit noted that Lake Wobegon is a place “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” But in terms of connecting all Minnesotans with broadband, “much of the state – like Lake Wobegon – is the ‘little town that time forgot, and the decades cannot improve’ – at least when it comes to high-speed Internet access.”
Acknowledging that progress seldom follows a linear path, Sen. Schmit noted that Minnesota has taken “two steps forward and one step back” after initially creating the Broadband Office and grant fund, only to reduce funding for round two investment by 50 percent in 2015. “Despite campaign promises and pledges of support, a renewed focus on rural Minnesota, a wildly successful first round of broadband funding, and another billion-dollar budget surplus, misplaced priorities and misinformation ruled Minnesota’s 2015 legislative session,” Sen. Schmit noted.
Sen. Schmit concluded his remarks by stating: “Broadband is a necessity, not simply a nicety. It’s as vital to 21st century life as electricity or telephone service. It’s essential – and policymakers should treat it as such.”
During its 2014 annual conference in St. Paul, NATOA presented Sen. Schmit with its “Broadband Hero” award for successfully championing broadband investment. In 2014 and 2015, Sen Schmit similarly was recognized as a “Legislator of Distinction” by the League of Minnesota Cities for his work on the issue.
Although the window has closed for 2015 broadband grant applications, an expression of interest process has been created for potential applicants discouraged by the fund’s modest funding. More information on the expression of interest process can be found at: http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/bbinterest.jsp.