Bluestem isn't sure that the slighting of rural broadband by the Minnesota Senate DFL isn't just another tiresome leadership tic on Tom Bakk's part, but his apparent need to use everything as a bargaining chip gets vexsome sooner rather than later.
Take rural broadband.
The slighting of this economic development instructure in the senate's supplemental budget--and star-quality freshman DFL state senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) who introduced legislation to develop it--was baffling to Bluestem. While we enjoy cable broadband at our world headquarters in sunny Maynard, some areas of Greater Minnesota still lack fast access to the Internet.
We're not alone in scratching our head on this one, especially as Governor Dayton is finally coming around to understand the important of this issue to Greater Minnesota. In Dayton now willing to support broadband fund, the Rochester Post Bulletin's political reporter Heather Carlson writes:
After initially criticizing a grant program for high-speed internet in rural Minnesota, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he has been convinced it is important to fund the initiative this year.
. . .The Minnesota House approved a supplemental budget with $25 million for the broadband fund. Last week, the Senate passed its own supplemental budget without any broadband funding.
Coalition of Greater Minnesota CitiesPresident Randy Wilson issued a statement last week criticizing both the Senate and governor for not doing enough to support rural issues like broadband.
"We expected leadership from the governor on broadband and other issues that are important to Greater Minnesota. So far this session, the Minnesota House has been the one arm of state government to lead with a rural agenda," said Wilson, who is also mayor of Glencoe.
The Greater Minnesota Partnership had been critical of Dayton's reluctance in the past to fund broadband. But the group's executive director, Dan Dorman, praised the DFL governor for voicing support for broadband funding and said they will go a long way in helping his organization's efforts to convince the Senate to fund the program. Dorman said he believes access to high-speed internet to rural areas is critical for the state's future.
In the Austin Herald, two Greater Minnesota mayors write in Governor, senate need to show rural leadership:
The members of the House have already shown their commitment to Greater Minnesota by addressing our most pressing needs, broadband expansion and local government aid (LGA), in their omnibus budget bill. Now it is time for the Senate and Governor to step up and be leaders on these important issues.
A lack of adequate broadband coverage is the most critical economic development issue facing Minnesota’s rural communities. Currently, only one-third of Greater Minnesota has the same high-quality broadband coverage available to more than 90 percent of metro-area households (according to data provided by ConnectMN). This puts our communities at a tremendous disadvantage.
The House recognizes the broadband disparity must be addressed immediately, before business owners, students and residents in Greater Minnesota fall further behind their urban counterparts. As a result, it voted to include funding for a state broadband infrastructure fund in its budget this year.
Senate leadership has been frustratingly silent on broadband. By failing to act, the Senate is effectively agreeing that the disparity between Greater Minnesota and the metro area should continue. . . .
The mayors are writing as board members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Up in Fargo, Forum Communications' Don Davis reports under the subheading "Rural action sought":
Rural action sought
Only the House is listening to the needs of rural Minnesota, according to a key group focused on issues outside of the Twin Cities.
“So far this session, the Minnesota House has been the one arm of state government to lead with a rural agenda,” said Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
The House has passed provisions such as one that expands broadband Internet around the state, as well as creating a job-training program and giving Greater Minnesota residents tax breaks.
Some improved broadband is happening outstate. Minnesota Public Radio's Dave Peters reports in Minnesota’s rural broadband gap shrinks:
The gap between rural adoption and the state’s overall number has closed over the past three years, the latest annual survey of high-speed Internet use shows. Seventy-three percent of rural households subscribe, up from 58 percent three years ago. . . .
The overall gains are encouraging, though it’s still worrisome that one in five homes don’t have broadband, said Bill Hoffman, project manager for Connect Minnesota. “With just the sheer volume of the economy that’s moving online, 20 percent left out is a huge chunk.” . . .
Will the Senate get on board with this intiative? For the legislative branch led by a non-metro legislator, the upper chamber under Bakk's dickering around isn't looking as friendly to Greater Minnesota as Paul Thissen's House. Speaker Thissen apparently doesn't just represent his district in south Minneapolis, but all of Minnesota. Fancy that.
Photo: Freshman Senator Matt Schmit in Bemidji, spreading the gospel of broadband. Via the Bemidji Pioneer.
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