The following is a press release regarding today’s new conference:

CGMC Believes Fate of Broadband Bill Rests in Senate’s Hands

Group says it’s critical that legislation includes ‘underserved’ portions of the state

ST. PAUL—On a conference call with Greater Minnesota media outlets today, leaders of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) said it is now up to the state Senate to determine whether the legislature will pass broadband legislation this session.

“The need for high-quality broadband is one of the most critical issues facing Greater Minnesota,” said Tim Flaherty, executive director of the CGMC. “The House and Governor have both voiced their support for broadband legislation. Now we call on the Senate to step up and get it passed.”

Supporters of the legislation, which would create a broadband infrastructure fund to help bring high-quality Internet to areas that lack adequate service, have seen significant progress in the past two weeks. The House passed a budget bill that would put $25 million into the fund, and Gov. Mark Dayton announced that he would support the legislation. However, the Senate’s proposed budget does not include any funding for broadband.

“The Senate should not pass up this opportunity to begin funding this critical need for Greater Minnesota’s future,” Flaherty said.

The CGMC and other Greater Minnesota advocacy groups also emphasized that it is important that the broadband legislation include both “unserved” (areas without any service) and “underserved” (areas with inadequate or poor service) parts of the state. Some telecom industry heavyweights have attempted to limit the broadband infrastructure fund to unserved areas only, but Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and a former state legislator, says that restricting use of the fund would defeat its purpose of providing an economic boost to the areas that need it most.

“Good broadband service is vital to economic growth,” Dorman said. “Businesses across Minnesota have told me that they can’t grow – or in some cases can’t stay – in their communities unless they have better broadband. The legislation needs to include underserved areas because there is currently no incentive for providers to improve their service.”

Dorman noted that the need for high-quality broadband in all parts of the state is not a new issue and action is long overdue.

“Less than half of Greater Minnesota households have the same high-quality coverage that is available in more than 90 percent of the metro area,” Dorman said. “Ten years ago, people said the free market would solve this disparity, but it hasn’t. That is why the state needs to provide incentives for companies to bring high-quality service into areas that clearly don’t have the coverage necessary to grow and remain competitive in the 21st century.”

(Click here for a PDF version of the press release.)