WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that they have secured significant federal funding to expand access to high-speed broadband in rural Minnesota communities. This investment, provided through the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s ReConnect program, will help connect over 6,000 people, 150 businesses, and 680 farms across Freeborn, Morrison, Stearns, Houston, and Todd counties. The American Rescue Plan, which Klobuchar and Smith supported and was signed into law last year, delivered significant supplemental funding for the ReConnect program. This affordable broadband will be deployed by Winnebago Cooperative Telephone Association in Freeborn County, Upsala Cooperative Telephone Association in Morrison, Stearns and Todd counties, and Spring Grove Communications in Todd County.
“This federal funding will make a real difference for rural communities across our state, allowing thousands of families to access critical opportunities online while enabling hundreds of farms to connect to new farming technologies such as precision agriculture,” said Klobuchar. “As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and help all Minnesotans reliably get the high-speed internet they need.”
“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century – it isn’t just nice to have, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Smith. “ReConnect funding helps connect communities in greater Minnesota who have been left out of the digital economy. I am proud of our work to secure this funding, which will bring us one step closer to our goal of ensuring every Minnesotan – regardless of their zip code – has access to high-speed broadband.”
As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus and Chair of the Rural Development Subcommittee respectively, Klobuchar and Smith have been national leaders in efforts to expand broadband access, support rural broadband, and bridge the digital divide. Klobuchar’s legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to expand high-speed internet nationwide served as the basis for major broadband funding included in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act.
In May, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to strengthen broadband access for rural communities. The Rural Broadband Protection Act will ensure that providers applying for federal funding can reliably deliver broadband to underserved, rural communities.
In March, Klobuchar and Senator John Thune (R-SD) led a bipartisan group of colleagues, including Smith, in urging the FCC to provide rural communities with guidance on their broadband funding status. She and Smith also secured significant federal funding as part of the government funding package to expand broadband access for rural communities in Northeast Minnesota, and led successful efforts to resolve a dispute regarding Red River Communications, helping bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities in the Red River Valley.
In November, she and Thune introduced bipartisan legislation to expand rural broadband access by strengthening the funding mechanisms for the Universal Service Fund (USF), which funds universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services.
Last July, she introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to expand rural broadband access by streamlining the funding process and removing barriers for broadband connectivity in hard-to-serve rural areas.
In December 2020, several of Klobuchar’s key broadband priorities were signed into law as part of the year-end omnibus package passed by the Senate. These provisions included funding to:
- Ensure students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet (based off of Klobuchar’s Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act);
- Implement the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps, which was signed into law in March of 2020; and
- Ensure federal funds for broadband deployment target unserved and underserved areas by directing the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate and share information on their broadband deployment efforts, a priority Smith has also advocated for.
Senator Smith has been pushing for broadband deployment to the most underserved rural areas since coming to the Senate. In October 2021, Sen. Smith co-led a letter with Sen. Thune urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to continue to grant broadband access awards to areas where there is a higher percentage of unserved households. Earlier this year, Smith Introduced bipartisan legislation with Senators Thune (R-SD), Wicker (R-MS) and Casey (D-PA) to increase access to rural broadband.