Column: Rural broadband access should be priorityMOUNTAIN LAKE - One of my legislative colleagues recently sent me this email, and I thought I would share it with you as well.
By: Dist. 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, Worthington Daily Globe
One of my legislative colleagues recently sent me this email, and I thought I would share it with you as well.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal government has dedicated $7.2 billion to expand access to broadband (high-speed Internet) throughout the United States, with the primary goal of bringing broadband to underserved, rural areas. This $7.2 billion will be distributed to local recipients in the form of grants and low-interest loans. Potential recipients include municipalities, counties, school districts, local telephone/telecom providers, non-profits and others, including partnerships comprised by these entities. The deadline for applying for these grants/loans is Aug. 14. A brief description of the federal broadband programs (BIP and BTOP) is attached. Much more information can be found at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Web site (ntia.doc.gov)
If you have any local units of government or other groups within your districts that have any interest in applying for these federal funds, they might want to attend a workshop on July 21 in St. Paul. This workshop is devoted to helping potential applicants with the grantwriting process. A flier for the workshop is attached.
In addition to the workshop, there are other resources available to help applicants through the process. These include the following:
l League of Minnesota Cities — Ann Higgins (651) 281-1257.
l Association of Minnesota Counties — Ryan O’Connor (651) 789-4339.
l Center for Rural Policy & Development — Brad Finstad (507) 934-7700.
l Minnesota Department of Commerce — Diane Wells (651) 284-4213.
The Blandin Foundation is is deeply involved in expanding broadband access in rural areas and is very knowledgeable on the subject, but it is not really set up to help potential applicants with the application process. Blandin itself is seeking funds from the federal stimulus which it plans on allocating to local communities and providers. The primary contact person at Blandin is Bernadine Joselyn. Her number is (218) 327-8728.
One of the main criteria NTIA will use in evaluating grant applicants is whether a proposed project will serve an underserved area. To that end, Minnesota communities are especially well-suited to make their case. This is because of the broadband mapping project that has been undertaken by Connect Minnesota. This mapping project allows anyone to find out the level of broadband service and the providers anywhere in the state. You can zoom in to the block level and find out if broadband is available and who is providing it. The start page for the Connect Minnesota is here: http://www.connectmn.org.
I hope you find this information helpful, and there are folks in your districts who are interested in taking advantage of these federal funds. I think we all share the goal of expanding broadband access in all corners of the state. The economic benefits of having access to high speed Internet are becoming more apparent everyday. It would be great if Minnesota applicants received a big chunk of the $7.2 billion that is available.
Dist. 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton is a Mountain Lake Republican.