By Don Davis
Rural interests and state legislators are banding together behind a proposal to inject $100 million into expanding high-speed Internet access across Minnesota.
They say the funding would put a dent in the $3.2 billion needed to complete the job.
“Our proposed $100 million Border-to-Border Broadband Fund promises to extend vital broadband connectivity to underserved areas of the state by promoting partnerships that leverage significant state, local and private investment,” said Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, who has traveled the state discussing broadband.
The effort is a start on what supporters say is $3.2 billion needed to help rural Minnesotans get access to high-speed Internet, something they say is needed to compete with their city cousins.
The Greater Minnesota Partnership says that if 95 percent of Minnesotans had access to high-quality broadband, it would boost the state economy $1 billion.
A Herman tire and repair shop owner said that his business struggles because suppliers and customers increasingly rely on the Internet.
“It has become extremely difficult to run my business,” Dave Horning said. “I don’t have any Internet, nothing works out here. The need for good-quality broadband is going to get greater and the problem is going to get worse if something doesn’t happen. A lot of us rural people don’t know what do; we’ve just been forgotten by the rest of the state.”
As Minnesota competes with such varied areas as South Dakota and South Korea, more Minnesotans need good Internet connections, partnership Executive Director Dan Dorman said. “Obviously, the lack of adequate broadband is crippling many communities. It is the most important and critical issue facing greater Minnesota today.”
Schmit and Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, are pushing their bill to use $100 million in state money to begin a building up infrastructure needed to expand broadband.
“Minnesota has yet to make a necessary commitment to its broadband infrastructure,” Simonson said. “We’re creating two Minnesotas: one where quick, reliable access to high-speed Internet is a given and one where it is rare.”
Simonson said businesses, farmers, educators, health care providers and others need better broadband.
Schmit said the proposal comes from a governor’s task force that looked into ways to deal with the issue. Communities, cooperatives, private providers or nonprofit groups could apply for grants to expand broadband.