Broadband Communities

MAY-JUN 2019

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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BROADBAND POLICY 6 4 | B R O A D B A N D C O M M U N I T I E S | w w w. b r o a d b a n d c o m m u n i t i e s . c o m | M AY / J U N E 2 0 1 9 Border to Border 2.0: Minnesota's Broadband Reboot Minnesota's state broadband grant program has been praised as one of the nation's best – but that doesn't mean it can't be improved, according to the bill's author. By Matt Schmit / University of Minnesota I n 2014, Minnesota was abuzz with broadband. e state's newly created O•ce of Broadband Development had opened its doors, and the legislature was poised to give it an invaluable new tool to extend critical access: the Border to Border Broadband state grant fund. Five years later, the competitive matching grants have connected more than 40,000 homes, businesses and community anchor institutions; leveraged $85 million in state grant funds for roughly $200 million in targeted investment; and positioned all Minnesotans to enjoy basic service by 2022. However, Minnesota's path toward broadband ubiquity has been something short of smooth. An overarching political impasse in 2018 resulted in a year with no grants. And in years prior, when the state did appropriate funds, progress was anything but prescribed. In 2019, however, a new governor and House majority are pushing hard for a broadband reboot. In fact, the governor has called for a broadband "moonshot," having pledged $300 million in new funds while campaigning for o•ce last year. And in the nation's only divided state legislature, Senate Republicans and House Democrats can agree on at least one thing: e state's broadband fund is a proven winner and worthy of renewed investment. BIRTH OF THE BROADBAND FUND Although I have worked on broadband as a legislator, a consultant and an academic researcher for more than 15 years, the issue assumed new meaning to me in January 2014, when the second leg of my 20-stop statewide listening tour kicked o— in northern Minnesota. ink lake country, Paul Bunyan and the harshest Minnesota morning you can imagine. My jeep's engine barely started, and the governor had closed all public schools for the day, but scores of area residents turned out to talk with an out-of-town freshman legislator about one pressing need: You got it, better broadband! Teachers and parents lamented the limited opportunity for distance learning, area businesses craved more competitive e-commerce, hospital administrators hoped to adopt new technology and telehealth applications, farmers aspired to the power of precision agriculture and folks from all walks of life yearned for the ability to connect and contribute online – anywhere, anytime. Of course, these have become familiar storylines, and rightfully so. Six months later, after conversations and coalition building, visits with far-žung local newspaper editors and various stakeholders, compelling committee testimony and legislative wrangling, Minnesota had its broadband fund. Although this story goes back about Ÿve years, a fuller telling of Minnesota's broadband tale extends farther still. For a fair recounting, and to give credit where it is due, consider Minnesota's two governor- appointed broadband task forces that elevated

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