GOP leaves communities disconnected by underfunding broadband

BY PAUL THISSEN GRAND FORKS HERALD OCTOBER 7, 2015

At a recent forum about the lack of high-speed Internet access in greater Minnesota, a woman from Aitkin, Minn., told us, "this isn't just a need—it's a necessity."

I agree. The availability of high-speed Internet has become a critical issue of economic vitality and quality of life for all Minnesotans. Unfortunately, House Republicans ignored this critical priority for greater Minnesota and halted our momentum to ensure all Minnesotans have access to high-speed Internet.

 

Broadband infrastructure—the means in which we provide high-speed Internet access across our state—got its first significant investment in 2014 by our DFL-led Legislature. But we knew this was only a down-payment. In fact, the Governor's Broadband Task Force has recommended a $100 million per year investment in our state's Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program.

Many people in greater Minnesota began this year with high hopes, given the promises Republican legislators made on the campaign trail. But despite a $2 billion surplus, the Republican-led House did not continue this commitment to rural broadband access in 2015. They initially zeroed-out our state's broadband investment and ended up putting just $10 million into our broadband program.

They also proposed to eliminate the Office of Broadband Development. That's because their top priority last session was massive tax breaks that benefit large corporations and businesses that predominantly reside in the metro area.

We knew that $10 million for broadband was inadequate then, and we have now confirmed it. This past week, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development released their list of communities that applied for broadband grants. The resources passed by the Republican-led House will only cover about one-third of the requests, leaving dozens of Minnesota communities disconnected.

And as noted at the meetings, the skimpy Republican commitment probably discouraged a lot of communities from applying.

Consider what is happening in Pine City, Minn., and in many rural areas across the state. After closing time at the local library, you can see people huddled in their cars with their laptops, struggling to maintain a connection on the library WI-FI so that they can complete homework or send an e-mail.

We must do better—for a student who can't log on to the Internet to complete a research paper, for a small business owner trying to stay competitive with the metro area, and for a parent who wants to connect online with a son or daughter at college.

We hear a lot of happy talk from Republican legislators about broadband. But talk won't build a single mile of broadband infrastructure.

Before next session, I urge Herald readers to contact their legislators and urge them to put their money where their mouths are in support of broadband infrastructure funding.

 

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