Access to broadband critical to rural growthPublished 2:49pm Saturday, March 8, 2014
Senate Report, by Dan Sparks
Telecommunications and access to high-speed broadband are critically important to the strength and continued growth of rural Minnesota’s economy. I have worked with many of our community and business leaders toward solutions to improve access in our area and across Minnesota.
In meetings this winter with the city of Albert Lea, the Albert Lea chamber, Freeborn and Greater Minnesota economic development organizations, broadband service was identified as a top priority for economic development and quality of life.
As chair of the Senate’s Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, I thought it was important to have a conversation early this legislative session about the current state of the industry and strategies to move us forward. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, the Office of Broadband Development, industry stakeholders and consumer groups contributed their perspectives at the hearing this past Wednesday.
Though we have made steady progress in recent years, we are still seeing a patchwork of available services throughout the state that needs to be addressed. We also discussed the significant social and economic benefits of connectivity. Once in place, high-speed access will allow our rural communities to dive into the world of tele-medicine, online learning, e-commerce, and precision agriculture, which will help drive economic success.
The All MN Broadband Alliance shared with us information about the importance of reinstating the sales tax exemption for telecommunications equipment. This has been a proven incentive for providers in encouraging network investments. There have been several bills introduced to do this, and I am a strong advocate for their passage.
Finally, we have discussed legislation to encourage expansion of high-speed service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Last week, Greater Minnesota small business owners, civic leaders and legislators held a news conference to announce package of bills aimed at reaching this goal.
The legislation sets out a series of proposals to encourage state, local and private investments in Minnesota’s broadband infrastructure, and is the framework for ongoing collaboration between the private and public sector on this endeavor.
One piece of this proposal establishes a broadband infrastructure fund to provide grants and loans to encourage broadband development in unserved areas of the state. This legislation is likely just the first step in this process and a great investment for the state.
The future of technology seems to be limitless, but if we fall behind in access to high-speed internet, that future could pass by our rural communities. I will continue to work on this issue because it is essential to the vitality of our rural communities.
I also had the opportunity to visit with a delegation from the City of Albert Lea at the Capitol. Mayor Rasmussen and Councilman Baker made the trip to St. Paul to discuss city priorities. I will continue to be in close contact with them as through the legislative session on matters important to the city.
Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.