Today the Minnesota Broadband Task Force released their latest report, which includes the Annual Report for 2013 and recommendations for 2014. The report starts out with an imperative from Task Force Chair Margaret Kelliher Anderson…
Today 74.5 percent [note: that’s 71 percent if you eliminate mobile wireless options] of Minnesotans can access broadband at statutory goal levels, up from 61.5 percent one year ago. That leaves 25 percent of households still unserved at the lowest broadband service level set in state law in 2010. The Task Force remains concerned Minnesota will not reach its goal on time. Significant change must take place for the 2015 goals to be reached.
The maps illustrate the need for better broadband – especially outside the Metro Area. I suspect community leaders in those counties will want more information. (To be fair, some areas, such as Cook and Lake Counties in NE Minnesota have been deploying improved networks that will be made available soon. Pine, Carlton, Aitkin and surrounding areas have also been working on progress but I have heard nothing concrete in the works yet. Todd County has also been working on plans for quite a while now but again I know of no concrete plans for improvement.) Perhaps these maps will help make the case of improvement for folks who have been working on broadband and serve as a wake up call for those who haven’t been aware of the situation.
Here are the recommendations…
The following legislative recommendations were viewed by the Task Force as being important and necessary if the state is to reach the goals outlined in statue by 2015.
- Restore the sales tax exemption on central office equipment (page 47)
- Continue the Connect Minnesota mapping effort (page 48) [$830,000 FY15; $1.66 million FY16-17]
- Establish a broadband infrastructure grant fund (page 48) [$100 million FY15]
- Identify and leverage existing economic development tools to provide adequate funding to help bridge the gap between what is financially feasible and the actual costs of providing broadband that meets the state goal (page 49)
- Create an Office of Broadband Development operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use (page 49)
The Task Force also highlights these additional recommendations for consideration:
- Increase funding for the Telecommunications/Internet Access Equity Aid per student funding amount as well as the Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA) program, encourage fiber construction and providing access to underserved populations (page 50)
- Minn. Stat. § 237 should be reviewed due to changes in technology and many components of the law are obsolete (page 51)
- Explore creation of a state-based fund that would help pay for connectivity services for low income populations (page 51)
It seems like good news for broadband proponents that they are recommending funding for infrastructure, mapping, promoting and seeking greater investment in broadband expansion.