Since announcing the formation of the bipartisan Rural Economic Working Group in August, US Senator Tina Smith has been travelling across Minnesota to discover “what’s working” in rural communities. The initiative brought her to Montevideo and Granite Falls on Wednesday, October 9, where she discussed broadband, housing, healthcare, and other topics with local officials and residents.
Her morning began with a roundtable discussion of rural broadband in the Yellow Medicine County Administration Building. Sen. Smith stressed the need for accurate federal mapping of rural broadband coverage.
“We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars expanding broadband, but if we don’t know [what areas are already covered], we don’t have the ability to set priorities, and we might end up wasting money…So having accurate mapping is a really big deal,” said Smith.
Sen. Smith also praised Minnesota’s Broadband Grant Program, which provides incentives for private sector entities to build broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas of the state. The grants can provide up to 50 percent of a project’s infrastructure costs.
“I’m trying to figure out how we can improve the federal programs so that they have the kind of accountability we have [through the Minnesota Broadband Grant Program],” said Smith.
Several officials shared concerns that the current 10/1 Mbps federal speed standard was far too slow. “That worries me greatly,” replied Smith. “I don’t want to see private sector entities investing in technology that is going to be outdated instantly.”
Later in the morning, Sen. Smith drove to Montevideo for a “local economy tour” led by City Council President Nathan Schmidt and City Manager Robert Wolfington. The group boarded a Prairie Five bus and made brief stops at The Dryer Doctors, Montevideo Family Dentistry, and Ice Castle Fish Houses. After the tour, the group returned to Montevideo City Hall for a meet and greet with members of the public.
“I have the chance to visit so many small towns in Minnesota, and I’m always impressed by the creativity and the energy I find in these communities,” said Smith in an interview following the tour. “My goal in coming to Montevideo is to really understand what’s working in this community, and how I as a Senator can support the good things that are happening here.”
Over the past months, Sen. Smith has toured several other rural Minnesota communities including Marshall, Bemidji, East Grand Forks, and Luverne. She says she hopes these experiences will help guide her efforts in Washington to restore rural economic prosperity.