Minnesota lawmakers likely to spend 0 million on broadband. How far will that go?

Minnesota lawmakers likely to spend $100 million on broadband. How far will that go?

Minnesota lawmakers are poised to allocate a hefty $100 million in funding to bolster broadband internet access in rural areas of the state. The question remains, however, as to how far this investment will carry in actually increasing access in these remote communities.

The funding, which is expected to be included in the state’s two-year budget, is intended to be used to upgrade existing infrastructure, improve access, and expand service to areas that are currently underserved. The money would also be used to provide grants to local governments and service providers to assist in the development of new networks.

The state’s current broadband infrastructure is woefully inadequate and unable to meet the needs of Minnesota’s rural communities, which are vastly underserved in comparison to their urban counterparts. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, over one-quarter of rural residents do not have access to adequate internet, which is considered to be speeds of 25 megabits per second (mbps) download and 3 mbps upload.

It is widely believed that the $100 million would be sufficient to upgrade existing infrastructure and expand service to an additional 20,000 households and businesses. This would represent only a fraction of the total number of rural residents who lack adequate access, however, and further investment may be necessary in order to make a more significant impact.

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force has recommended that the state invest up to $300 million over the next 10 years in order to bridge the digital divide in rural areas. While this would be a much larger expenditure than the $100 million lawmakers are considering, it could have a much greater impact on providing access to those currently without it.

In light of the state’s current fiscal outlook, however, it is unlikely that the full $300 million will be allocated in the near future. The $100 million is thus seen as a much-needed first step in providing access to rural communities, though it remains to be seen how far it will actually go in improving the situation.