ST. PAUL – What is the future of broadband in the State of Minnesota?
This is one of the top questions State Representative Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) has heard from residents since the end of the 2015 session, and he expects broadband to be a top priority in 2016.
"When you think of ways to enhance economic development in Greater Minnesota, reliable broadband technology ranks near the top of the list," Miller said. "Most people recognize that what was dedicated to broadband last year isn't enough to meet our needs, and both Republicans and Democrats understand that we need to revisit this topic again next session."
In the Minnesota House, Miller had few opportunities to vote for broadband this session. He supported legislation during a Minnesota House Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy Committee hearing that allocated $50 million to broadband, and also voted for the new law that ultimately allocated $10.58 million to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.
Miller said that grant money is now available for distribution, and encourages cities, counties, businesses, non-profits, and other eligible applicants to consider applying before the September 15 deadline. Full details and application materials can be found on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development website at http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/.
Miller said he recently signed a letter of support for a local company that provides broadband service to 6,000 rural residents in hopes of helping it secure some of the grant funds. If successful, the funding would be used to enhance service levels within its current wireless coverage areas.
Miller also encourages anyone who has questions about the broadband grant program, or who would like assistance with their application or a letter of support, to contact his office by calling 651-296-4228 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, Miller expects that rural lawmakers will continue to hear from their constituents about the need for broadband.
"Schools, homes, and businesses shouldn't be forced to deal with unreliable internet access simply because they live in a rural area," Miller said. "Quality broadband technology is critical for western Minnesotans, and I am confident the legislature will better address this issue during the 2016 session."