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States Commit to Improve Economic Prosperity Through Increased Broadband Access

July 21, 2016

A month after a federal court ruled that high-speed Internet service can be defined as a utility, four states have announced commitments to expand high quality, reliable broadband services to rural areas and other underrepresented groups. Two Midwest states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, will provide funding to help support projects that improve access to broadband and spur economic prosperity. California and Virginia are exploring strategies to improve their respective state’s broadband networks.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) announced $35 million in broadband funding to expand broadband infrastructure in Minnesota. Approved during the 2016 legislative session, DEED will award grants through its Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program to pay for up to 50 percent of project development costs in unserved and underserved areas of the state, according to mhta.org. A maximum of $5 million per grant will be available.

Under the new funding, $5 million will be targeted for underserved areas of the state and $500,000 for projects that propose to expand the availability and adoption of broadband service to areas that contain a significant proportion of low-income households. The new round of funding brings the state’s total investment to $65.4 million since the Border–to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program was created in May 2014.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced the official launch of the state’s Broadband Forward Community Certification Program, according to The Journal Times. The state will commit up to $1.5 million annually for four years to advance broadband Internet access and speed. “The goal is to have rapid broadband accessible throughout the state instead of lagging in some rural areas and smaller towns,” said Gov. Walker. State Sen. Jennifer Shilling contends that the new advancements in broadband help spur economic development in addition to helping make Internet access more friendly to state residents.

In California, proposed legislation (SB 745) would lead to a series of changes to the state’s California Advanced Services Fund, according to statescoop.com. Under SB 745, the Public Utilities Commission would prioritize broadband investments in public housing communities that are currently unwired as well as require the commission to study how the fund has spurred broadband adoption at the county level.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) have undertaken a project to better understand Virginia’s broadband coverage gap and address those gaps, according to watchdog.org. Using an online survey, the state hopes to identify broadband service gaps in Virginia. Once those gaps have been identified, the state will provide funding to help address them. In the governor’s two-year budget for 2016-2017, the state includes $2.5 million for infrastructure expansion under the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative. In May, Gov. McAuliffe also launched a new initiative that allows telecom providers to install conduit capable of housing broadband-friendly fiber-optic cable in the rights-of-way of state-maintained roads.

 

California, Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsinbroadband