Minnesota House, Senate Face $40M Divide on Broadband Funding

The House Jobs Omnibus bill includes $70 million for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program, while the Senate’s version came in $40 million short of that figure.

by Eric Johnson, Austin Daily Herald / May 2, 2019
Minnesota State Capitol Shutterstock/Henryk Sadura

(TNS) — This week, both the Minnesota House and Senate released bills that included money for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program; however, both bills take different directions in terms of money offered.

The House Jobs Omnibus Bill passed 74-59 and includes $70 million in funding for the program, while on the other side of the aisle, the Senate Agriculture Omnibus Bill passed 43-24, but comes up $40 million short of the House’s number at $30 million.

The House bill drew praise from the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition; however, while not necessarily drawing criticism, the Senate bill did cause disappointment for the coalition as well as some members of the Senate including Senate Democrat Dan Sparks (27B).

“It’s a very common sense thing,” said Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition spokeswoman Judy Erickson. “The Senate has said it’s a top priority for them, but we’re disappointed in the $30 million decision.”

Sparks applauded the addition of the money in the Senate’s bill, but also expressed disappointment in how much less was offered.

“I think obviously this program is very important in our area and across the state,” he said. “There are rural areas that are unserved and underserved. Our schools need it. It’s not really a luxury, but a necessity.”

The original proposal, which came earlier in the session from the Senate, suggested an equal proposition as the House’s $70 million.

In 2018, the Governor’s Broadband Tax Force showed in its annual report that $70 million every two years would meet state speed goals of 25mbps download and 5mbps upload for every business and home by 2022.

Statutory speed goals of 100 mbps download and 20mbps upload by 2026 would also remain on track.

However, should the $30 million proposed by the Senate go through, it could create a costly delay in reaching those goals.

That delay would in turn affect farmers and small businesses economically, cutting into the efficiency of running their operations.

“If you live in an unserved, underserved area, the ability to do your work and connect to the world is limited,” Erickson said. “We have heard stories of people going to McDonalds to do their data upload. It’s all about economic activity.”

Still, Sparks remains optimistic that hooking Minnesota up to broadband internet will continue forward as both sides appear dedicated to expanding it throughout the state.

“I think we’ll be okay,” he said. “It’s always tough to get these big budget bills off the House and Senate floors. I would say from a negotiating standpoint, we’re in pretty good hands.”

©2019 the Austin Daily Herald (Austin, Minn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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