Minnesota Farmfest went virtual with its political candidate forums last week when the major candidates for Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District gathered online to take questions on a number of issues.

Candidates were asked a question about rural broadband initiatives. Republican candidate Michelle Fischbach said it was an increasingly important issue in the COVID-19 era.

“This is so important with tele-medicine, tele-education, and just businesses, and it’s absolutely necessary to support broadband and the efforts to get it to rural Minnesota,” said Fischbach. “As a matter of fact, in 2017 I voted for $20 million at the state level to make sure that we had broadband dollars throughout the state.”

Incumbent U.S. Representative Democrat Collin Peterson said it’s been a big frustration that many big companies suck up a lot of federal money and overbuild on existing systems.

“All these broadband things have been basically geared to the big operators and in a lot of places, they’ve been the ones that stopped the broadband getting out to the rural communities,” Peterson charged. “So I have this bill with Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, which would take the Universal Service Fund — which is how we got telephones into rural America in the 1930s — and it takes that fund and shifts it over to broadband. And if we could get that done, we could finally get this stuff out to every farm in rural America. And I think without something like that, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.”

Republican challenger Dave Hughes did not think the federal government should stick its nose in such matters.

“The federal government has no authority by the U.S. Constitution to be involved in this, nor should they jump in with money that we don’t have,” Hughes claimed. “The biggest threat to agriculture, the biggest threat to the United States is our crushing annual budget deficits and our crushing national debt. And the more money that we spend on things that are not authorized (for) the federal government to do, the bigger problem that is. And so, I see small innovators as the solution here, not big one-size-fits-all government-driven solutions. I agree that broadband is super-important, but I don’t want the government in it in (any) federal role whatsoever.”

Republican candidates Noel Collis was also part of the forum, which can be accessed in its entirety at the Minnesota Farmfest website.

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