The following press release was distributed to media outlets statewide today. A PDF version is available here.

For Immediate Release
April 9, 2015

Contact: Julie Liew
651-259-1917
jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

 

House GOP position effectively ends state’s help in bringing broadband to Greater Minnesota

ST. PAUL—Economic growth in Greater Minnesota faced a significant setback yesterday when the Minnesota House Job Growth & Energy Affordability Finance Committee failed to include any funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program in its omnibus bill.

In another blow to the future of broadband expansion in the state, the bill also eliminates funding for the Office of Broadband Development which helps communities and residents understand the options for obtaining broadband service.

“The House GOP’s decision to put $0 into broadband essentially kills the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program,” said Heidi Omerza, an Ely City Council member and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “The lack of high-speed broadband continues to be one of the most pressing issues for communities and businesses across the state. It is deeply concerning that the House GOP has chosen to eliminate the funding needed to expand this vital service.”

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was established in 2014 after a strong campaign by the CGMC and other Greater Minnesota groups and organizations. Earlier this year, the state announced the first grant recipients, who will receive a total of $19.2 million to help fund 17 broadband projects throughout the state. The recipients were chosen out of dozens of applicants who sought more than $44 million in funding.

“The need and desire for better broadband service is overwhelming,” Omerza said. “City and community leaders across Greater Minnesota can’t understand why, with a $1.9 billion budget surplus, the legislators in the House can’t even match the modest $30 million that Governor Dayton included for broadband in his budget proposal.”

Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Willmar City Council and CGMC Board of Directors, echoed Omerza.

“We are astonished as to why the House would ignore one of the state’s biggest economic development needs,” Nelsen said. “The lack of high-quality broadband affects communities and regions all across the state. Eliminating state funding for the broadband program will have a grave effect on Greater Minnesota.

Omerza, Nelsen and other Greater Minnesota city leaders note that with five weeks left in the legislative session, there is still time for the House to reverse course and include broadband funding in its budget.

“We are calling on civic groups, community leaders and editorial boards to join with us in asking the House Republicans to reconsider their decision and restore funding for the broadband program this year,” Omerza said. “We simply cannot allow our lawmakers to stifle economic growth in Greater Minnesota by refusing to fund this critical need.

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