Senator Draheim, Senate unanimously passes Rural Broadband Emergency Bill

The Senate unanimously passed a critical emergency rural broadband bill Monday. The bill is co-authored by Senator Rich Draheim (R-Madison Lake). It rushes $20 million out the door to expand broadband access to students and families that find themselves working and educating from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Education, remote work, and telemedicine are significant focuses of the legislation. All areas have been severely impacted by the lockdown.

“Working, learning, and receiving health care services are increasingly reliant on internet access, and the ongoing pandemic has highlighted the challenges people without broadband face,” said Senator Draheim. “In my district, and across Greater Minnesota, there are underserved communities with thousands of people that lack any reliable internet access. This bill is another step forward and secures additional infrastructure to expand access and ensure students, families, and businesses can have access to the service they need to succeed.”

$8 million of the bill is designated to distance learning grants for students currently lacking Internet access during the COVID-19 peacetime public health emergency. $2 million of the full amount 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. It will receive $10 million of the $20 million appropriation. However, this funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Program is allocated by the Commissioner of Management and Budget, who must determine if federal Covid-19 emergency funds can be used for this purpose.

Minnesota still contains large swaths of rural and even some small metro areas that fall into the unserved and underserved categories, according to DEED’s map of broadband services. This lack of access was the impetus for this broadband infrastructure bill.

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