A bill establishing a grant program would fund broadband infrastructure in unserved areas continues to be heard in key committees.
(Published Mar 24, 2014)
1. Get Informed.
The border-to-border broadband funding bill (HF 2615/SF 2056) authored by Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing), would award grants to public and private entities in unserved areas of the state. The fund would be distributed through a matching grant program by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to assist cities, broadband providers, and cooperatives in unserved or underserved areas of the state.
Grant funds would be used to install broadband infrastructure to provide a high-speed Internet connection to residents and businesses. As the bill is written, the appropriation to DEED for the program would be one-time funding of $100 million. However, based on discussion among House members and the release of budget targets, it is believed that a figure of around $25 million is more likely to be allocated toward the fund.
The bills include definitions of unserved areas and underserved areas, which differ in the House and Senate versions. The Senate defines “unserved areas” as areas in which households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds that meet a Federal Communications Commission threshold of four megabits per second download and one megabit per second upload. The Senate definition of “underserved areas” is areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds that meet the state broadband goals of 10 to 20 megabits per second download and five to 10 megabits per second upload.
The House definition of “unserved areas” matches the Senate language of “underserved areas.” Additionally, the Senate language gives priority to areas with speeds less than the FCC definition of unserved areas.
The League supports language that gives priority to areas that do not meet the state high-speed broadband goal (minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second), not just those areas that have less than the FCC threshold of four megabits download and one megabit upload.
2. Take Action.
City officials are strongly encouraged to contact their legislators this week to support the passage of HF 2615/SF 2056. The next stop in the Senate is the Finance Committee, which may hear the bill this week. The House bill has been laid over in the Jobs and Economic Development Committee, which means it will be considered for possible inclusion in a larger omnibus bill. The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
When communicating with your legislators, share your city’s broadband needs and how your community could benefit from this program.
Even if you believe your city would not be eligible for the funds based on the current criteria, your feedback and expressed support to legislators on the importance of statewide broadband infrastructure for developing local and state economies is encouraged and an integral part of the discussion on this issue.
The League has been working closely with cities and other key stakeholders to create this fund so that areas that do not currently have the state broadband goal speeds would be eligible to apply for the funds. (See LE-16 State Broadband Policy in the LMC 2014 City Policies (pdf) on page 53.)
3. Stay Involved. Stay tuned to League resources for more information:
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Contact Laura Ziegler
(651) 281-1267 or (800) 925-1122