Posted by: Ann Treacy | March 22, 2013

Frustrated for Broadband in Rural Minnesota: No Joy from Local Provider. Can Policy Help?

I am sharing the following email we received with permission from author Shauna Kreger…

I would like to say thank you for fighting for use in these small communities in rural Minnesota on Broadband. I am a college student on-line and have trouble doing my school work because I do not have broadband and cannot afford satellite. Satellite is not much better than dial-up ( but you probably already know that). I have tried for past four years to get broadband installed in my area with no luck. I am a quarter of a mile from the cut off of a broadband box. I wrote a letter to Qwest’s board three years ago explaining the benefits of broadband services for the rural communities and the benefits it would have on their company ethics. I also sent them detailed research on when North Western Bell put phone lines in around my area and how it paid for itself. To my disbelief I received an e-mail back from a female on the board stating “putting broadband services in at this time would not benefit Qwest”. I contact the company monthly asking for broadband and I am told I can not get it and there is no future plans for broadband installation in my area. School children need broadband these days to do their homework and their grades are suffering because there is no option. The phone company seems to be monopolizing the rural area of Pine, Kanebec, and other Northern Counties.

I thought about blocking out name of the provider but I figured there have been enough changes at Qwest to provide some distance. And Comcast’s Duane Ring said something very similar at an MHTA meeting in January

How can we convince providers to expand their service? What prevents growth?

DR: All providers want more customers. It’s what we think about. How do you get a ROI? There’s nothing available now that makes a compelling business case in some areas. We’ve looked at various technologies. We will need a hybrid solution to reach unserved areas.

I heard similar frustration from users while I was touring communities across the state last month. So, while research I posted earlier this week indicates that adoption is where it’s at for closing the broadband gap I’d like to remind folks that access is still an issue too. Adoption is a goal that everyone loves – providers, users, community leaders… It feels good all the way around. The apple pie of broadband! And I wholeheartedly support adoption too.

Access is another issue because there is a gap between the goals based on perspective: most providers want to make money while customers (and community-oriented leaders) want to see service in areas even where the business case isn’t strong. Broadband proponents see broadband as an investment in the community. Many providers see it as an investment for stakeholders. (Note: there are local independent, coops and community providers that see investment in the community too!)

Addressing tough issues of access could be where the policymakers can have the greatest impact. It seems like encouragement (via tax incentives, public-private partnership or other options) is worth trying but at some point we may need to see stronger measures that require providers to address universal service and/or support community/municipal efforts to get the job.


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