On Friday, the Minnesota Senate passed the final version of legislation to distribute emergency broadband funding. In the wake of the spring COVID-19 wave, $27 million will be quickly available to increase vital broadband infrastructure in unserved areas of the state for education, remote work, and telemedicine. All of these areas have been heavily impacted by the lack of internet access in Greater Minnesota.
“Working, learning, and receiving health care services are increasingly reliant on internet access,” said Senator Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake). “In my district, and across Greater Minnesota, there are underserved communities with thousands of people that lack any reliable internet access. Today’s end of session effort puts forward another opportunity to secure additional infrastructure and expand broadband access to ensure students, families, businesses, and communities can receive the service they need to succeed.”
This bill has had several iterations, but agreement on the federal dollars’ distribution was reached between the House and Senate on the last day of special session. $15 million will be designated in 2020 to a “distance learning broadband access grant program” for students lacking Internet access this fall. $2 million will go towards reimbursing licensed healthcare providers who invest in and install telemedicine equipment for COVID-19-related care. The Commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will award the grants based on geographic need and a first-come, first-serve basis.
The Border to Border Broadband Fund, which targets the development of broadband in unserved and underserved areas, is a significant recipient of the bill and will provide substantial help for businesses, telecommuting, and distance learning. The program will receive $10 million of the $27 million appropriation. All projects will be up and running by the end of 2020, meaning guaranteed fast access for outstate communities.