SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House Industrial Education and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee approved a bill chief authored by Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL – International Falls) to invest $120 million to expand access to high-speed broadband across the state. The House Ways and Means Committee will consider the legislation next.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen how much Minnesotans depend on reliable, high-speed internet access, including students, business owners, and people accessing telehealth services, just to name a few,” Rep. Ecklund said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on the difficulties many folks in Greater Minnesota face when they can’t get online. Looking ahead, Minnesotans deserve the long-term, bold investments in this bill to ensure everyone can get online.”
Since 2014, lawmakers have invested $105.5 million in the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. The program awards grants that leverage private local investments to expand access primarily by funding “last mile” infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. As a result of the program, 49,900 homes and businesses have received high-speed internet access.
“This bill would be the most significant investment ever from the Minnesota Legislature in internet access, recognizing broadband as a utility, not a luxury,” said Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL – Aurora). “The strong investments in this bill will not only better equip Greater Minnesota to recover from the pandemic, but will help improve the overall way of life for families and strengthen our economic future.”
“For our rural communities to be vibrant and successful, our businesses, students, and families deserve the ability to access the internet,” said Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL – Hibbing), a co-author of the legislation. “The robust investments in this bill will move us closer to ending the digital divide by helping students access coursework, ensure health care consumers can reach their doctor for telehealth visits, and create new economic opportunities for regions like the Iron Range to be successful.”
In December, the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband recommended a $120 million investment to meet connectivity and speed goals. The Legislature has set a goal for all Minnesota businesses and homes to have broadband access with minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second. As of October 2020, 92% of Minnesotans have access to this level of service, with 157,000 households still unserved. The Legislature has also set a goal for everyone to have access to at least one provider with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second by 2026.
More information on the hearing, including supporting documents, can be accessed on the committee’s webpage. Video of the hearing will be available on House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel.