ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers were considering ways Thursday to improve internet speed in rural areas.
Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking another $30 million to improve high-speed internet in rural areas. Republicans, who control the Legislature, say they’ll support about half that.
More than 250,000 rural Minnesotans lack access to fast internet, according to the state agency that oversees broadband internet grants. That makes it difficult for businesses, residents, schools and hospitals to keep up with modern demands.
“We live our lives online,” said Rep. Sandy Layman, a Republican from Cohasset who’s sponsoring a bill that would partly fund the state’s broadband grant program. “If you’re not online at speeds that allow you to take part in the 21st century, your quality of life is diminished.”
The state has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years on high-speed internet expansion projects, but a task force established by Dayton, a Democrat, says nearly $1.4 billion in private and public funds is still needed to get all households access.
Last year, the Legislature set aside $20 million for the program, which matches local and private broadband spending with state dollars. Dayton’s task force said earlier this year they need about $35 million annually over the next few years.
Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo is proposing legislation allowing satellite broadband companies to tap into public funds that they couldn’t before. He said that would help connect people in remote areas where laying cable is challenging and expensive.
Some critics worry the service isn’t as reliable as cable connections, especially during bad weather, and that companies might occasionally reduce users’ speeds.
Eric Klindt, a Wilkin County Commissioner, said his satellite internet speeds sometimes drop slower than dial-up. He needs a fast internet because his work includes monitoring planes involved in agricultural spraying in three states.
“When the service goes down, I don’t know what to do,” he said.
Under Garofalo’s proposal, satellite providers would be required to meet minimum bandwidth speeds before they can get funding.
Layman said the technology is relatively new, and may improve as more customers those services in the future.
Both Layman’s and Garofalo’s bills are being considered as part of a larger measure.