Something’s missing from the new MN Broadband Task Force

Last week we got word on the newly appointed Minnesota Broadband Advisory Task Force members. Here’s the quick roll call: (You can see full bios here.)

  • Six Members who work for broadband providers, provider associations or vendors
  • One Public Affairs Consultant (and former ISP employee)
  • One IT Director of a large business
  • One High Tech Association Director
  • One Retired from the Legislature and MN PUC
  • One IS Director for a Metro County
  • One Metro Cable Communications Officer
  • One Metro Librarian
  • One Healthcare IT Director
  • One Rural K12 Technology Co-op

Where’s the rural* representation? Where’s the community representation? Who will be speaking for the folks who are least likely to be online – the elderly, low-income, ethnically under-represented and rural folks?

Last year when the original Task Force unveiled their recommendations, Blandin Strategy Board applauded the formation of a continued Task Force to carry on the work of the original team but cautioned

The membership of this advisory committee will be crucial to its success. Diverse voices and perspectives must be included. Specifically, we urge the participation of more community representatives and end-users, especially those with strong technology backgrounds and needs – from large and small businesses, historically marginalized and disadvantaged populations, health care, education and government. We believe these representatives would be well positioned to identify and implement collaborative strategies to bring world class broadband throughout Minnesota.

Apparently there were 31 applications for the 15 positions; almost one third (11) were from rural applicants. The Department of Commerce tried to get a mix of backgrounds, gender, geography but it seems as if the list is a little industry-heavy and community light.

The initial Task Force strove for consensus, which made for more powerful and practical recommendations – but consensus is only powerful when you have everyone’s voice at the table. The newly elected folks are all qualified but some voices are not at the table and I’m afraid we may miss their voices too late.

The job of the new task force is to…

Advise and assist the commissioner on progress in achieving state highspeed broadband goals and assist in annual report to legislature regarding same.

That means there won’t be a publicized “final report” that the public can read and assess; rather advice will be given without the fanfare and probably without the scrutiny that the first Task Force experienced. Therefore it’s even more important that we have a diversity of representation around the table. Maybe there will be opportunities for the new Task Force to hear those voices – I hope those voices will speak up!

*I want to quickly add that legislation for the original Task Force “metropolitan area” means the counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington, and “rural area” means an area outside of the metropolitan area.

4 thoughts on “Something’s missing from the new MN Broadband Task Force

  1. There are only 15 positions; you’re not going to get a direct “voice” for every constituency. I’m confident that Pete Royer will represent rural interests as good as or better than anyone else.

    Outside that, if the issue is lack of access via broadband, I’m not sure what is gained by having a lot of different representatives on the consumer side. What would they—the elderly, low-income, ethnically under-represented or other—say that is substantially different from each other in this context?

  2. I don’t know if it needs to be a direct voice – but a voice who has more direct contact with the demographic who isn’t online. They might have a better idea of what the roadblocks are and how to overcome them. Sometimes lack of broadband is the issue – but more often I think it’s lack of computer, cost, fear of viruses, not understanding the potential value of broadband…

    You’re right, Peter will do a great job – as will the rest of the board. There are some great folks on the board. I am glad that we have folks on the board who already are collaborating (public-private partnerships), folks who have done well with ARRA. I think that will be valuable should another opportunity arise.

    Maybe they just needed a few more places at the table.

  3. Being low income and a on line student I am in great need of high speed internet and have a very difficult time getting it, keeping it, and affording it. Sometimes I need to spend money to go 35 miles into town to get it. I think having a low income rural representative on this board would be fantastic.

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