Republicans sent a really bad message in a House committee last week regarding broadband access in Greater Minnesota.
And the decision by the House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Finance Committee to put $0 into broadband is even more curious and disconcerting because it comes in the wake of the GOP promoting rural Minnesota issues as a top priority of the legislative session.
It took a lot of bipartisan effort last year to get $20 million through the Legislature and signed off on by Gov. Mark Dayton to initiate the Border-to-Border Development Grant Program. The program has already issued $19.4 million in grants to expand broadband service in unserved and underserved regions throughout Minnesota.
And the Iron Range has benefitted through these projects:
• Mediacom, Pintar Road. Award: $137,848. Total project cost: $275,697. Impact: Service to 122 unserved homes and businesses on the southwest edge of the city limits of Hibbing.
• Northeast Service Cooperative. Frontier Communications Corp., Border-to-Border Phase I. Award: $1.96 million. Total project cost: $4.35 million. Impact: Service to 877 homes and businesses in St. Louis County, including areas in and around Crane Lake, Alborn, Meadowlands, Brookston, Forbes, Kelsey, Soudan, Kabetogama, Ely and Tower.
The nearly $20 million in Border-to-Border grants will provide up to 50 percent of project development costs; bring high-speed Internet to nearly 6,100 homes, 83 community institutions and hundreds of businesses statewide.
That’s good return on investment of state money for Greater Minnesota.
We fully understand the next five weeks will see a lot of traditional game-playing before a final budget is crafted. That’s just part of the annual political theater and ritual in St. Paul.
But to have an important House committee begin the process with no money for broadband is just ridiculous. And, obviously, a terrible starting point for negotiations.
Those of us in Greater Minnesota are sick and tired of politicians talking about the needs of rural areas only to then fail miserably on their follow-through.
Broadband is vital to the growth and economic development and vitality of Greater Minnesota.
This House committee and its Republican majority should be ashamed. Now it’s up to GOP House leadership to set things right.