On Friday, the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill to distribute $27 million of emergency rural broadband funding. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a stark need for better broadband access in many rural communications for education, remote work, and telemedicine. All of these areas have been heavily impacted by the lack of internet access in Greater MN, and the Senate’s bill increases economic vitality and quality of life for Minnesotans without depleting a general fund that is already stretched thin.
“High-speed internet has become a utility of equal importance to electricity, and the COVID pandemic has only reinforced that fact,” said Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona). “As schools were forced into distance learning, doctors attempted to expand telemedicine, and more and more people shifted to remote work, we learned just how necessary broadband access is in our daily lives. In Greater Minnesota, there are still too many communities that don’t have access to high-speed internet, but we are making progress every year. This bill takes another big step forward in that ongoing effort.”
The compromise calls for $15 million to 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 Border to Border Broadband Fund, which targets the development of broadband in unserved and underserved areas, is a significant recipient of funds in 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.