Legislation moving through both Minnesota houses would double the amount of money that Gov. Mark Dayton proposed to create a broadband development office.
Proposals in both houses call for spending $500,000 a year to hire a director and two staff people. They would become the state’s central broadband planning body in the effort to achieve ubiquitous broadband availability by 2015.
Among the duties:
–Make recommendations for increasing Internet use, especially in rural areas.
–Consult with local governments trying to plan broadband projects.
–Encourage public-private partnerships
–Keep track of what other states and the Federal Communications Commission are doing on broadband.
–Report every year to the Legislature on progress in Minnesota.
Creating the office was one of the recommendations of Dayton’s broadband task force earlier this year. But other task force recommendations — tax incentives for Internet providers to actually lay more high-speed Internet fiber in underserved areas, for example — aren’t going anywhere, it seems. Even those recommendations were deemed unambitious by those in the broadband world eager to help providers put fiber in the ground.
Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, a House sponsor, said he’s optimistic about the plan for the broadband office. “Broadband is no longer a want; it’s a need.” But anything more ambitious will have to wait, he said. “The whole theme for this legislative session is, ‘let’s get our budget house in order.'”
The legislation also directs the Minnesota Department of Transportation to post on its website upcoming road construction projects, so Internet providers could track potential opportunities to lay fiber during construction.