Gov. Mark Dayton's task force on broadband is recommending the state spend $200 million next year to develop greater access in areas that don't meet state speed goals.
The money wouldn't come close to building everything the state needs for universal access but would expand on the $20 million the Legislature approved this year for a handful of public-private partnerships to build needed access to homes, farms and businesses, task force chairwoman Margaret Anderson Kelliher said.
The state's Office of Broadband expects to start taking applications for that money by the end of the month and to make project awards by the end of the year.
This year's money should help pay for four to six projects that would show interest and need in rural Minnesota for better service, state Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said Thursday. Experience with those projects could help lawmakers decide on whether to expand funding next year, he added.
Schmit and Kelliher spoke in Minneapolis at a broadband conference sponsored by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that drew officials and telecommunications providers from a variety of states.
It is estimated that about 300,000 Minnesota households don't have access to Internet speeds that they should to function well in today's economy and that to supply access would cost between $900 million and $3 billion.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, who helped foster Republican support for the money in the past session, told the conference he understood there are places where the private market alone will not provide what is needed.
In the hope of learning as much as possible from this year's projects, Kresha said, "I'd rather see exemplary failures than mediocre successes."