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Commentary: Feasibility study is vital step for broadband in Kandiyohi County

Rep. Dave Baker

The Kandiyohi County Board last week took an important step to approve a broadband feasibility study so we know exactly where the gaps in service are, and how we can utilize state and federal money to improve broadband access in our community.

Broadband access is so important for our schools, residents, and businesses. Being able to connect at 21st-century speeds means access to information and opportunities around the world.

With broadband, students can more easily complete their homework and teachers can plan lessons and look up information quickly in their homes.

Broadband helps businesses connect with vendors and customers in other time zones, boosting sales and helping them compete.

Perhaps most importantly, broadband means more opportunities for families. Instead of having to move to the metro or another city for a job opportunity, someone from Kandiyohi County can telecommute to a job here in Minnesota or another state or country altogether.

I want families, schools, and businesses to have all these opportunities and more — that’s why I’m so passionate about broadband and glad to see the Kandiyohi County Board taking this important step forward.

This is a complex issue that involves many moving pieces; state and federal funding, partnerships and investments from private companies, as well as homeowners and businesses. This study will help us identify areas of opportunity so we can be ready at a moment’s notice to apply for available funding and act quickly to seize opportunities to connect Kandiyohi County.

It’s my hope I can be a leader at the Legislature on this issue and continue the positive momentum on broadband and translate it into connectivity for our area.

I’ve been hosting meetings and engaging stakeholders in conversations this summer and fall on how we can move our area forward on broadband. Last month I hosted Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt for a meeting with Kandiyohi County economic development officials so he could hear firsthand what the challenges are facing residents and businesses in our region and just how important it is that we expand broadband access to high-need areas.

I spoke this week with the head of the Border-to-Border broadband office in St. Paul about the $86 million per year in federal funding telecom companies are receiving to connect unserved and underserved parts of the state.

This funding is huge! Over six years we’ll see $500 million in Minnesota for broadband. It’s great to see our federal dollars coming back here for such an important cause.

My hope is we’re smart about our investments, and making sure that we aren’t duplicating efforts using state dollars for programs that can be covered by this federal money. That will be something I’ll be watching closely heading into next session — if we need legislation to make sure we don’t have duplication that’s something I would support. I want to make sure your tax dollars and money for broadband are being spent in the most effective way possible.

As an Assistant Majority Leader and vice chair of the Jobs and Energy Committee, I will be fighting like heck in St. Paul to make sure we’re prioritizing broadband and that Kandiyohi County has a seat at the table.

Last year was the first year of a two-year term. We put in $10 million for broadband last year, and I hope to build on that next session. I will keep meeting with stakeholders, including my legislative colleagues, and continue to lay the groundwork for next session.

Dave Baker represents District 17B in the Minnesota Legislature.