A Minnesota U.S. Senator says connecting people to one another and to economic opportunity is necessary to survive in the global economy, and in order to do that, everyone must have access to affordable and reliable broadband services.

Minnesota U.S. Senator Tina Smith

Senator Tina Smith said there are 250,000 households in Minnesota that don’t have access to high-speed internet, and that’s a problem for, among others, students in those areas. “In rural Minnesota, some kids are on the school bus for an hour or more to get home again,” she explained. “And they have to stay on the bus to finish their homework because the bus has a hot spot but once they leave the bus and go into their house they don’t have anything at all.”

Smith added that many in the urban areas don’t realize how vital high-speed internet is to Minnesota’s farmers, “Not only all of the business applications that you need, but also the precision agriculture applications, so it’s just so crucially important.

Smith’s bill, the Community Connect Grant Program Act of 2018, would introduce and expand broadband networks to areas that lack service or are not currently economically feasible to deliver service—like low-income or remote rural areas.

Specifically, the Community Connect Grant Program Act would:

  • Provide grants to construct, acquire, or lease facilities—including spectrum, land, or buildings—to deploy broadband service.
  • Modernize minimum speed service to coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission and keep pace with 21st Century needs.
  • Provide essential community facilities—like fire stations and public schools—with service for up to two years.
  • A portion of the grant funding may also be used to improve, expand, construct, or acquire a community center within the proposed service area to provide community access.
  • Avoid duplicating of existing broadband networks by not building where current broadband networks exist, responsibly investing federal funding and taxpayer money.
  • Authorizes funding for Community Connect grants to $50 million per fiscal year.

Eligible entities include service providers, state, local, and tribal governments, cooperatives, and other non-profit organizations. Grants would be administered through the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.