How much should we spend on rural Internet help? Lawmakers are divided

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Less than half of the households in 29 rural Minnesota counties have access to broadband, according to a statement released last week.

"If this was telephone or electricity, people would be in an uproar. This puts rural Minnesota at a huge economic disadvantage in terms of competing statewide, nationally and globally," said Representative Paul Marqaurt, a Democrat from Dilworth, in a statement.

Yet lawmakers can't agree on how much the state should spend improving broadband access in rural areas.

Three budget targets have been unveiled, according to a statement. Governor Mark Dayton proposed investing $100 million, the Senate DFL has proposed $85 million, and House Republicans only want to spend $35 million. The final amount should be decided in May.

Lt. Governor Tina Smith criticized the Republicans' proposal in a separate statement, pointing out that it would "barely make a dent in the need for high-speed, affordable broadband access in Greater Minnesota."

However, the Republicans are the only group that has also outlined how their proposed money should be spent.

Their proposal focuses on helping students, said the Pioneer Press. $7 million would be allocated for school Internet grants, including wi-fi hot spots that students could bring home, and $28 million for rural broadband expansion.

Broadband background

Mark Dayton campaigned for governor in 2010 on making broadband a fixture from border to border, reported MPR. During the last two years, tens of millions of dollars have gone to competitive grant programs designed to bring or boost service to places that lack high-speed connections, said the outlet.

Last year, 15 out of 44 communities that applied won a share of the $11 million in grants for rural broadband projects. Read more about that here. You can also read the latest government report on broadband here.

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