Advice to the MN Broadband Task Force from Chris Mitchell

I’ve been gathering advice for the newly names Minnesota Broadband Task Force. Not everyone with good advice is a former Task Force member. I’ve been able to talk to a few other smart people as well, such as Chris Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Locally based, Chris is a national figure in the field of municipal/community networks. We weren’t able to meet for a video – but Chris was kind enough to send some advice in writing for the new Broadband Task Force…

Any community that has the willingness to invest in itself should have that right. There is no reason for the state to prefer that massive out-of-state companies will  build better networks than the communities themselves. The community has a much greater incentive to invest today and
 in modern technologies. Whereas private companies are looking for handouts to serve places like Sibley County, Sibley County is just looking for the state to get out of the way.

Requiring a 65% referendum for a community to build its own network is ludicrous — and it is Minnesota law. We are the only state in the nation with a supermajority requirement for a community to build essential infrastructure. I have been closely following a community broadband battle in Longmont, where their massively successful referendum campaign got 60% of the vote — a loser in Minnesota. Despite absolutely no support from any local leaders, Comcast was able to get 40% support by simply outspending the grassroots community broadband movement $300,000 to $5,000.  In modern elections, such a referendum is a barrier, not a barometer of
public sentiment.

Removing this barrier to local authority for community broadband will not bring border to border broadband — many communities simply do not want to take on the responsibility of building a next-generation networks — but it will certainly bring us closer, and it will bring much better networks to those communities that are willing to step up and invest in themselves.

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