Poppe: Rural broadband is an essential investment

Since the end of the special legislative session two months ago, I’ve been spending time out in our community discussing what we did and hearing what you think our priorities should be next legislative session. This past week I attended Minnesota Farmfest in Redwood County.

As many of you know, Farmfest is an important part of Minnesota’s agriculture community. For more than 30 years it has given farmers, producers, equipment retailers, and agri-businesses the opportunity to showcase and exchange ideas, products, and practices.

Tuesday was Rural Broadband Day at Farmfest. The day was full of events focused on the importance of expanding Minnesota’s broadband infrastructure. A day of panel discussions started off with a discussion led by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Other discussions included one on state and federal broadband initiatives, one on how the future of agriculture is dependent on broadband, and one on the tools available for rural broadband development. A common theme of the day was that access to broadband is crucial for farmers in Greater Minnesota, especially as they continue to utilize advanced farming practices.

Unfortunately, we’ve had a mixed history of investing in rural broadband. In 2014, the DFL-led Legislature approved a record $20 million in broadband development grants. In 2015, Governor Dayton requested an additional $30 million for broadband development grants. At first, House Republicans did not include any funding for broadband. After strong criticism of their position and lengthy budget negotiations, the Legislature was only able to approve $10.6 million in broadband development grants, despite a $2 billion surplus.

As policymakers, we need to eliminate as many barriers to essential services like broadband so our farmers, small businesses and families can continue to succeed. Minnesota’s farmers utilize some of the most sophisticated agriculture practices in the world and we need to support them in their efforts. I’m hopeful my Republican colleagues will join with me and make those essential investments in rural broadband next legislative session.

In meeting with you and visiting with people all across Minnesota, I’m continually reminded we can do better for our community and the people of Greater Minnesota. I look forward to continuing to meet with constituents over the coming months to hear what you want the legislature to focus on next session.

 Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, is the Minority Lead on the MN House Committee on Agriculture Finance. Feel free to call her office in St Paul at 651-296-4193 or email at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn or reach her locally at 507-438-7857.

 

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