The House and Senate both approved broadband funding last week in their omnibus bill packages. As one-time appropriations from both bodies, these funds would work to further provide high-speed internet access greater Minnesota by expanding availability and testing accuracy. But the approaches differ.
The House on Wednesday passed the omnibus bill for agriculture, environment and natural resources, job growth, and energy affordability that included a mere $15 million in broadband expansion for 2017.
HF3931 passed 72-54 and represents the second of three supplemental omnibus bills in the House. Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), it then went to that Senate that rolled several omnibus bills into one supplemental omnibus budget bill. The Senate passed that on Thursday, including $85 million for broadband.
The Senate held a broadband press conference on Wednesday hosted by Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing). Learn more about the plans and impact in this Duluth News Tribune article.
Of the amount appropriated from the House, $1 million would go to expand grants to completely unserved areas and $500,000 would go to expand availability to low-income households.
The House proposal would require the program reach underserved areas as well, whose households or businesses lack access to wired broadband service at speeds greater than 10-20 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload, and to unserved areas at speeds greater than or equal to 10 megabits per second download, and three megabits per second upload.
As of February 2015, it was estimated that over 244,000 households, almost all of which are in Greater Minnesota, do not have any access to broadband.
Right of First Refusal
The House bill also allows any incumbent internet provider the right to first refusal when offering service within the geographic location of any project’s proposal. This was a contentious point in the debate. The Senate version does not require this, but they do significantly up speed goals as well.
The House includes $7 million in their education finance omnibus bill to deploy wifi hotspots, mainly aimed at installation on busses. The maximum grant for this is $100,000 for a school district applying by itself or $200,000 if applying with a community partner such as a public library, community education, or adult basic education program provider.
Now the House and Senate will form a conference committee to hammer out the differences their supplemental budget spending proposals, including broadband.
The North Star Policy Institute compares the plans this way: