Nancy Hoffman: Rural Minnesota needs full broadband funding

Published by Winona Daily News on May 1st, 2019

When it comes to broadband funding, Minnesota elected leaders deserve credit for recognizing that access to opportunity is not universal — even if talent in our state is.

Since 2014, the state has appropriated $85 million to local internet providers through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, to speed the pace toward meeting the goal of providing high-speed broadband access at minimum speeds to every corner of the state by 2022. While internet service providers jostle to compete for customers in densely populated cities and regional centers, the market gets pretty thin in deeper rural areas of the state where towns are sparsely populated and farm operations measure their acreage by the thousands. That doesn’t mean access is any less crucial — and that’s where the state comes in. There is talent in every corner of the state, and no corner of the state should be left on the dark side of the digital divide.

The Border-to-Border Broadband program has helped the state reach an admirable 91% penetration rate toward the universal access goal, and has become a national model that other states are using to make sure they aren’t left behind. But the Minnesota program hit a snag last year. After four consecutive years of funding, the bill authorizing the 2018 appropriation was caught in a political cross-fire and vetoed by former Gov. Mark Dayton over issues not related to broadband. That stopped the program, and the progress needs to continue this year to make up for lost time.

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