The new Pew Report (Brining America Up to Speed: States’ Role in Expanding Broadband) is outlines what is, was, has happened and what could or maybe should happen with broadband in states – especially in context of what is happening on a federal level with the National Broadband Plan and the ARRA broadband funding.
It looks at the good (California and North Carolina are both cited for early and effective programs), the bad (Montana ranks dead last in State Internet speed) and the ugly (the direct cost of closing this gap is $23.5 billion, according to the Federal Communications Commission).
It recognizes and details some of the wonky and borderline incongruous federal versus state regulations. It tells some sad stories of when broadband wasn’t available – especially the story of a woman in an emergency room with not enough bandwidth to send her scans to a specialist in time for treatment. It tells some stories of success. It talks about ways that broadband can save money in the long run; and ways that states can make a difference (through policy especially in terms of rights-of-way) without spending money. For those of us seeped in broadband there aren’t a lot of surprises, but it’s a great document for policymakers and community leaders to get up to speed.
Minnesota gets a couple of nods. First we’re grouped with some other high flyers…
Early, well-established planning efforts have made a difference in states such as California, Minnesota and North Carolina, where coordination among a variety of stakeholders has helped facilitate statewide approaches to expanding access to and the use of broadband.
Then the Task Force is mentioned specifically…
Minnesota, for instance, created the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force, representing urban and rural parts of the state. The group’s final report, released in November 2009, recommended broadband access for all Minnesota homes and businesses by 2015, tax incentives for individuals, businesses and organizations to increase digital literacy and financial assistance for low-income people to pay for services.159 The legislature moved quickly to accept some of the recommendations, and in April 2010, Governor Pawlenty signed into law a bill that sets state broadband goals for deployment and speed, including universal access by 2015, with a minimum download speed of 10 to 20 megabits per second and an upload speed of at least 5 to 10 megabits per second.
We also get a nod in terms of alternative regulation
And Minnesota, Ohio and Vermont are among the states offering providers more flexible “alternative” regulation arrangements in exchange for broadband deployment commitments.128 Also called incentive regulations, these arrangements typically allow regulated providers to earn larger profits or relax the hurdles providers must clear when proposing rate increases, provided they meet performance targets.
and recognizing the needs of individuals with disabilities…
Minnesota also is taking steps to expand broadband adoption among individuals with disabilities and is working to guarantee that disabled persons are provided with access and use of state equipment and sites.
Now I feel a little like the woman who says – now why would I want to join a club that would invite the likes of me but I also feel like it’s important to appreciate the recognition for the good start – and use this report to move forward.
The Task Force did a terrific job and was I pleased to see the Governor sign the Broadband Bill with little dispute – but we’re at a crossroads and I’m not sure I see State Government moving us forward.
The best advice in the report comes from Jane Smith Patterson, executive director of North Carolina’s e-NC Authority…
“If you don’t have a group that is looking at [broadband] and keeping their eye on their target, your state will lose out in terms of its ability to have what I consider the technology of knowledge and information and light,” suggested Patterson. “It is desperately important that states have this capacity and capability.”
The Minnesota Task Force urged for the creation of such a group in Minnesota. The Minnesota Broadband Bill leaves the door open for a group- but does not mandate it. To move forward I think the State needs to get moving and create that group. Again according to Patterson, only 15 percent of states have a broadband group or authority – I suspect that those are the top states.
Why do we need a group? As the report repeatedly points out – the situation is different everywhere. Broadband adoption and deployment involves technology, terrain, regulation, population and so many other unique characteristics. There won’t be a cookie cutter answer than can be used in every state. So one will have to be created for each state. Also if you don’t have a local champion reminding folks about broadband, it gets lost. A simple example is the right-of-way issue and transportation. The dig once policy of laying down fiber with any new roads is great – but fiber is not necessarily on the minds of the transportation folks. The broadband folks have to be there to remind them.
Why do we need it at the State level? We have lots of good folks doing good work in Minnesota. Blandin Foundation has been supporting and promoting broadband in rural areas for year. The Knight Foundation has been involved in St Paul. Several local governments have become leaders in the field – such as Monticello, who may not have wanted that crown but has paved the way for municipal networks. But a State supported or sanctioned group would have an impact on policymakers that the others cannot and would send a message to people in and out of Minnesota that we were serious.
You can see other local reaction to the report in MPR’s Ground Level and a recent article in MinnPost.