Dayton's budget funds broadband development
Jan 23, 2013 (St. Cloud Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Nestled among Gov. Mark Dayton's budget recommendations made Tuesday was a promising sign for leaders pushing the development of high-speed broadband across the state.
In an increasingly digital world, access to broadband can have implications across many areas of life, such as education, health care and public safety.
Dayton's Commerce Department budget recommends funding a Broadband Development Office. The details say the initiative would coordinate broadband deployment projects, work toward developing a Minnesota Fiber Collaboration Database and a statewide "dig once" program. Advocates of "dig once" encourage entities to think about adding broadband to road and utility upgrade projects.
The office would also provide resources for the Governor's Broadband Task Force and staff to provide technical analysis and advice.
According to the recommendation, the office will receive a budget of $250,000 a year through 2017.
Performance measures for the department include creating the database, an increase in federal funding coming to the state, additional goals from the task force as well as meeting state broadband goals.
Negotiations on the final budget are just beginning, so it is unclear whether the office will make the final cut.
Developing high-speed broadband to all areas of Minnesota, especially rural areas, has been pushed by the Blandin Foundation through the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities program.
Benton County was selected by the foundation as one of several communities to participate in the program to boost broadband access in rural areas. Funding came from a U.S. Department of Commerce grant.
The project wrapped up last summer after implementing projects that included connecting businesses with customers via the Internet, boosting Wi-Fi access in schools, and adding access and training on computers and iPads through schools, community education and other places.
There remain areas of rural Central Minnesota that don't have reliable access to high-speed broadband.
The task force's annual report last December said progress is being made, but that without public partnership with the private sector, it is incredibly challenging to ensure universal access.
The task force recommends tax credits or grants be used to provide incentives to build broadband access. It also recommends coordinating highway and broadband construction projects.
The task force spent 12 months examining access and broadband use in the state.
The Governor's Broad Band Task Force meets again from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday at the Minnesota Department of Transportation in St. Paul.
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