It’s always nice to see broadband get coverage in local mainstream media outlets! Twin Cities Business recently ran an article outlining recent history of broadband in Minnesota. The article starts by looking at access, recognizing the long term investment made by commercial providers as well as explaining the impact of government subsidies – from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), FCC’s Universal Service Funds (USF) and ARRA (America Recovery and Reinvestment Act) – on those commercial providers. It details how Minnesota is stacking up to the legislative goals of ubiquitous broadband coverage of download speeds of 10-20 Mbps and upload speeds of 5-10 Mbps. The article indicates that there is progress yet to be made.
The report also looks at adoption – highlighting some of the recent Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) projects.
Broadband is an indispensable infrastructure for rural communities, says the Blandin Foundation’s Joselyn. The organization has been working with rural communities to both secure broadband access and to adopt the new digital technologies since 2003. Blandin and its partners secured an ARRA grant of nearly $4.9 million to promote Internet adoption in rural communities and added another $2.7 million of their own to the project.
One of the project’s target goals is to set up 11 demonstration communities using the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) approach to determine priorities. For instance, Winona community leaders have determined that they need to increase Internet access in campgrounds and parks to compete for tourists, while other communities are focusing on goals such as e-health and distance-learning initiatives.
“Compared to the rest of America, rural Minnesota is leading adoption,” Joselyn says. “And MIRC partners are adopting at a faster rate than others.” According to a study conducted at the University of Minnesota–Crookston, about 64 percent of rural Minnesotans with access to broadband have adopted the new technologies, compared with 55 percent for all of rural America.
“To be successful in the new economy, communities need to be connected,” Joselyn says. “Access denied is opportunity denied.”
The report includes an interesting quote from broadband provider and Broadband Task Force member Gary Evans on broadband access…
Hiawatha Broadband is currently completing a $20 million project, funded by the company, to bring fiber cable to six communities: Dover, Eyota, Elgin, Plainview, Lake City, and Red Wing. Evans notes that while it is crucial to provide access to all of the state’s residents, the real impetus behind the race to connect is not residential Internet access, but improvement in health care, private and public safety, education, and jobs in rural areas.
It stresses the importance on anchor institutions – but I think focus indicates that we’re still a step behind ubiquitous access and adoption. First we must get these anchor institutions to make the most of broadband. Part of that process will include developing ways to offer and/or improve services to residents via broadband, probably at reduced rates to both the anchor institution and residents served – that when the business case will be made to provide ubiquitous access to broadband, affordable access to the tools and train everyone to better use broadband.