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digital divide

Rural Broadband Advocate Tina Smith Will Replace Al Franken in Congress

As Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor, Smith championed broadband funding programs.

Kaleigh Rogers

Kaleigh Rogers

Lt. Governor Tina Smith speaks at a 2014 campaign rally in Eagan, Minnesota. Image: Wikipedia

There’s a new digital divide advocate on Capitol Hill, at least for the next few months. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has tapped his Lieutenant Governor, Tina Smith, to take over the Senate seat left open by Al Franken’s resignation.

Smith is a longtime rural broadband advocate who has championed programs in Minnesota to close the digital divide.

“High speed internet access isn’t a nice thing to have, it’s a necessary thing to have,” Smith said earlier this year in a local news interview about a new program providing grants to school boards for broadband expansion. “It’s almost like rural electrification 80 or so years ago when we all just had to come together to get electricity to that last mile. Now we’re getting broadband to the last mile.”

Franken announced his resignation earlier this month after multiple women accused the second-term senator of sexual misconduct. Smith will serve in the interim until a special election next year, where she’ll run to claim the seat officially.

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Franken himself was a big proponent of broadband access in Minnesota, where about 20 percent of the population has no access whatsoever to high speed internet. Smith has a similar record, helping to bring forward two major broadband programs in Minnesota earlier this year, including the $500,000 for school boards and $34 million to help local communities expand access.

In November, that pot was infused with an additional $26 million in state funding to provide grants for municipalities to build or expand broadband. These programs have embraced private-public partnerships to make sure communities can use whatever makes sense to get broadband infrastructure built.

“This is something we’ve seen bipartisan support for,” Smith said in a radio interview this year.

In the Senate, Smith will have a much broader opportunity to tackle digital divide issues across the county (Minnesota is an internet oasis compared to states like Mississippi). She has a track record of proven, popular efforts to getting broadband where it’s needed fast and efficiently. With Franken no longer in his seat, it’s key to have a digital divide advocate filling his shoes.

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