While far short of the goal, House Speaker Paul Thissen says the House is ready with $25 million in the House’s supplemental spending bill that would go toward Internet infrastructure. Broadband, he said, is “one of the first things that people talk about.” Thanks for listening, Mr. Speaker.
But that’s where it stops. The Senate has nothing for broadband funding and has been strangely quiet on the issue. One has to wonder if this is not just another bargaining chip for Senate Leader Tom Bakk. The senator has dragged out just about all crucial legislation this session to get his own priorities accepted, such as the new Senate Office Building, which some argue held up the minimum wage approval.
Staking out positions is nothing new in politics, except in this case the executive branch and both houses are led by the same party — the DFL. One would think there would be little need for political posturing in that situation.
Without question there is a debate — albeit a quiet one — that wonders how best to spend the money. Should it be toward increasing speeds or getting more availability to the underserved?
Working on the latter part of that debate has been the Greater Minnesota Broadband Initiative. Enventis, a member of that group, was awarded a $15 million federal grant and used $6 million of its own money to build high-capacity networks in 36 rural communities connecting healthcare facilities, schools, libraries, businesses and households.
But more needs to be done. With just two weeks left, the Legislature has time to approve funding for expansion. But it sits with the state Senate to stop using this as a personal bargaining chip and concentrate on what’s best for the economy of the state.