ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republicans in the Minnesota House have carved out space in their budget to improve Internet service in the state after getting flak from Democrats and constituents.
The majority party added $8 million for broadband development grants to its budget Friday. The original GOP plan eliminated the program, which Minnesota spent $20 million on last year.
Broadband advocates say high-speed Internet infrastructure helps small cities attract business development. More and more jobs will require swift connections in coming years, said Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Dorman, whose group helped push Republicans to recommend the grant funding. “And it’s not really about Facebook and Netflix.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jim Knoblach said other options such as wireless Internet may be a more efficient way to tackle the state’s needs. That’s the argument Republicans first made in deciding to scrap funding for the grants.
“At the same time, there are people waiting for broadband now that I think this would help,” the St. Cloud Republican said.
A task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton recommended last year that the state spend $200 million for grants to improve service statewide. That’s well above the $30 million Dayton recommended over the next two years out of Minnesota’s projected $1.9 billion budget surplus.
Ways and Means committee member Rep. Tim Mahoney said an annual $20 million investment would solve the problem in a decade. The St. Paul Democrat wasn’t impressed with the Republican offering.
“For them to come up with $8 million is kind of ridiculous,” Mahoney said. “It’s almost a slap in the face.”
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