The ability to connect to the internet using fast speeds that allow for downloading complex information is one of the great technological achievements of our lifetime. We need to make sure that all Minnesotans have access to a fast internet.
Those who have good access to the internet have entrepreneur opportunities in a global market. They can communicate with their health care provider at a long distance, perhaps at a critical moment. Students can work with other students on a mutual research project. I could go on and on about the benefits.
The problem is that access to a fast internet via broadband is not available to all Minnesotans. That is particularly true in Greater Minnesota where service is scattered. The 2016 Legislative Session offers an opportunity to make strides in making universal access to broadband in Minnesota.
Broadband across all of Minnesota would be a long-term investment that would make our businesses and farmers competitive with those who have the access. These enterprises would have the ability to download data-rich information that can help them fine tune their operations and create partners for trade in markets across the globe.
During the 2014 legislative session, I voted for $20 million in broadband grants for underserved areas. Some of that has been invested in south central Minnesota. When Governor Dayton proposed an additional $30 million in broadband grants in his state budget earlier this year, it appeared likely that we would further expand broadband to Greater Minnesota.
With a projected $2 billion state budget surplus last year, there was plenty of room for a significant investment in Greater Minnesota broadband. Unfortunately, the House Republicans initially opposed any type of funding for broadband development grants. It was only after weeks of pressure from Greater Minnesota that they began to consider supporting funding for broadband.
After long negotiations with Governor Dayton, and a special session, the final budget bill only included $10.6 million, about half of what we invested in 2014. A budget surplus is not a time to retreat from investing in critical infrastructure critical to the future of Greater Minnesota.
Now is the time for one-time investments like broadband funding. We currently have a stable budget and more than a $1 billion budget surplus. Projected ongoing tax cuts and spending are called “budget tails” at the State Capitol, because the “budget tails” continue after the current budget cycle. Reoccurring changes to the state budget can create budget shortfalls in future years with subsequent challenges to fund our schools, healthcare, roads, and other needed services for Minnesotans. Investing in broadband is a cautious and wise one-time investment without creating “budget tails.”
There will be a lot of competition next session over how to use the surplus. I will continue to fight for a stable budget that invests in the future for all Minnesotans. Developing broadband across Minnesota is the kind of investment that makes good common sense.