Senator trolling for broadband ideas, says state hasn’t done enough

If you think the state has been missing something when it comes to extending high-speed Internet access to rural areas, there’s a meeting next week not far from wherever you’ll be.

Complaining that Minnesota is falling short in an essential 21st Century utility, Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is holding 10 sessions — he’s calling it a “border-to-border broadband tour” —  to learn more. He conducted a similar tour in November and said today he received requests from communities to do more.

“Minnesota has spent the past decade talking about the importance of broadband access,” Schmit said. “We’ve formed three separate Governor’s task forces, we’ve established speed goals, and we’ve identified policy recommendations. There’s been a lot of talk, but very little action.”

The Legislature established speed goals for the entire state to be met by 2015 and it has created a broadband office within the Department of Employment and Economic Development. State officials have tracked the $200 million-plus in federal stimulus money awarded in Minnesota, but there has been little direct state spending by comparison.

Schmit said that next week he mostly wants to listen to residents talk about the importance of broadband access and local initiatives they have taken. But he also said the state is falling behind other places and needs to do more. “We’re not leading in this regard. There’s a significant need in greater Minnesota for doing something. We have to consider other options.”

Without being specific yet, he said he’s prepared to introduce legislation that would change laws that can get in the way of local initiatives and would take other steps to allow for a greater variety of community-based models.

“We haven’t had this good statewide discussion about what it means to be a leader in this,” he said.

Here’s where the sessions will be, starting Monday:

  • January 6, 3:00 p.m.: Chisago County HRA, North Branch Regional Library, 6355  379th St., North Branch.
  • January 7, 8:00 a.m.: City of Chatfield, Chatfield City Hall (Council Chambers), 21 Second St. SE, Chatfield.
  • January 7, 2:00 p.m.: Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, ARDC Building 221 W. First St., Duluth.
  • January 8, 9:30 a.m.: Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission, Northwoods Bank (Community Room) 1200 First Street E., Park Rapids.
  • January 8, 12:00 p.m.: Park Rapids Rotary, St. Joseph’s Area Health Services (Basement Meeting Room), 600 Pleasant Ave., Park Rapids.
  • January 8, 3:00 p.m.: Todd County Fiberband Committee, Todd County Courthouse boardroom (3rd floor), 212 Second Ave. S., Long Prairie.
  • January 9, 8:30 a.m.: Aitkin County, Aitkin Courthouse (Boardroom), 217 Second St. NW, Aitkin.
  • January 9, 4:00 p.m.: City of Annandale, Annandale City Hall (Community Room), 30 Cedar St. E., Annandale.
  • January 10, 9:00 a.m.: Ortonville Economic Development Association, Ortonville Public Library (Media Center), 412 Second St. NW, Ortonville.
  • January 10, 1:30 p.m.: Southwest Minnesota Regional Economic Development Commission, SWRDC Building 2401 Broadway Ave., Suite 100 Slayton.
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