Capitol Hill questions Minnesota broadband coverage claims

Broadband is a hot topic in the Minnesota legislature this year, which means it’s getting attention is mainstream media. I always like to see what folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband think. Sometimes I’m surprised, as I was with MPR’s Capitol View’s view that any internet connection should suffice…

But DFL Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing said not everyone can get a connection.

“Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota, that’s 450,000 households, currently lack access to broadband – to basic broadband,” he said in a press conference presenting the DFL senators’ plan.

The state has a set of broadband goals: By 2015, all residents and businesses should have access to high-speed broadband that provides a minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second.

The state is behind in meeting those goals.

According to a 2014 report from Gov. Mark Dayton’s broadband task force, a little more than 20 percent of Minnesotans lack access to a fixed broadband connection that meets Minnesota’s speed standards. If you account for cellular connections – which experts say are inferior partly because they can be costly – roughly 10 percent of Minnesota households lack access to broadband that meets Minnesota’s speed standards.

But Schmit’s claim makes it sound like 450,000 Minnesota households can’t connect at all, and that’s not true. According to the task force report, nearly 100 percent of Minnesota households have access to some sort of broadband connection, both wired and cellular combined – though some of those connections may be very slow.

This is where definitions can be very important and what you choose to show in a report is equally important. I suspect that 100 percent of Minnesota has access to the Internet BUT that doesn’t mean broadband. In Minnesota, as the article points out, the definition of broadband is “a minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second” anything less than that isn’t broadband.

The case is confused because at a federal level broadband was defined as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up BUT the FCC is changing that definition to be 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

What’s the difference? Access to the internet is probably sufficient if you want to check email – but if you want to watch a Khan Academy video for homework, get tech support through an interactive chat, or fill out a job application you’re going to need broadband.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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