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Minnesota Considers State Funding for Satellite Broadband

Randy Sukow / Apr 20, 2018

A proposal now under consideration in Minnesota’s House of Representatives (HF 4180) would allow satellite broadband providers to apply for grants to offset the cost of consumer equipment. Federal and state grant availability for satellite broadband has long been a rarity due to the comparative slower speeds and sometimes poorer reliability compared to wireline broadband solutions. HF 4180 is getting similar criticism but also appears to be getting more serious attention than past satellite broadband funding attempts.

The bill, introduced by Republican Representative Pat Garofalo (pictured), is an attempt to lower-cost alternatives to expanding broadband coverage in the state.  “The state has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years on high-speed internet expansion projects, but a task force established by [Governor Mark] Dayton, a Democrat, says nearly $1.4 billion in private and public funds is still needed to get all households access,” according to an Associate Press report. Republicans controlling the legislature are balking at paying an additional $300 million in 2018 above amounts already passed, AP says.

HF 4180 would require satellite broadband applicants to deliver at least 25 Mbps speeds downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The new generation of satellite broadband technology now rolling out across the U.S. through the Viasat-2 satellite far surpasses those benchmarks.

The bill limits the amounts applicants can receive. “No grant awarded … to a satellite broadband provider, [may fund] 50 percent of the total cost of satellite broadband equipment installed at user locations,” according to the text of the bill. Half the cost of satellite equipment in homes would make for significant cost savings over fiber optic service to extremely remote parts of the state. Minnesota currently limits grants for single wireline projects to $5 million.

Despite the potential cost savings, there is considerable opposition to fixed wireless and satellite solutions. “Comparing quality broadband provided by a wired source to wireless Internet access in today's market is akin to comparing electricity provided through power lines to that provided through a gas-powered generator,” the Rochester Post Bulletin said in an editorial. “Both will get the job done in most cases, but only one provides the consistent level of service needed. Only one is dependable in the long run.”

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