“Broadband projects are out” and other reactions to proposed broadband cuts in Minnesota

Here’s the news from my Politics in Minnesota Newsletter today…

Broadband projects are out, tourism is in as the omnibus bill takes shape in the House.


A root of the issue is that Representative Pat Garofalo believes that wireless is a better solution in rural areas that fiber. (Many of the reactions speak to the fact that wireless alone isn’t what rural areas want or need. Wireless is necessary but not sufficient.) MPR News posts Garofalo’s comments …

Garofalo said a hardwired system for rural broadband is too expensive. He said wireless and satellite Internet are better options.

“The migration of technology is toward wireless and satellite deployments, and you can get far more coverage at a lower price by using wireless instead of fixed fiber,” Garofalo said. “We’ll see where the technology takes us, but it’s pretty clear that around the world even high density areas are using wireless because the infrastructure costs are so much cheaper.”

Marc Johnson, from ECMECC, sent a letter to the House Committee that he shared on his blog

With all due respect, I believe any decision to defund the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) and the Border to Border (B2B) grant program will set rural Minnesota back years and maybe even decades and is a detriment to residents and businesses who wish to locate in rural areas of the state, not to mention schools, healthcare facilities and so on.

His sets out to give a rural perspective on wireless…

A Star-Tribune article indicated that you believe wireless options are cheaper. I beg to differ. We have wireless providers in our area including fixed wireless, cellular and satellite. In ALL cases the costs to consumers are significantly higher than wired (copper or fiber) services due to high equipment costs, data caps and generally high monthly fees. The service level is significantly slower than wired options – in most cases barely reaching the minimum definition of broadband at best and usually much slower – and the wireless solutions experience many more service interruptions than any wired option. I think these are easily documented facts and I challenge you to find a significant number of consumers or rural business who are satisfied with wireless services and think it is an affordable solution. Certainly, in our part of that state, they are not affordable options.

I would concede that SOME wireless solutions MAY be cheaper to deploy – at least initially, but I believe that may be offset by the fact that the equipment to drive wireless solutions has a much shorter lifespan than most equipment used in wired solutions. Additionally, the limited amount of spectrum available for wireless solutions makes it difficult to deploy in some areas of the state. It is nothing more than a “Band-Aid” fix.

Aaron Brown, from the Iron Range, points out that broadband isn’t just for techies anymore – everyone in rural areas wants it. (Kind of like in metro areas!)…

This last year has seen a small but encouraging spurt of state investment into rural broadband on the Iron Range, but it was just the starting bell, not the final buzzer on what needs to happen. It used to be that this issue was more pressing among young families and professionals, but when I attended a recent Balsam Township community meeting people of all ages wanted to know how to get broadband, including retirees who previous distrusted the idea. We hear the same in townships and small towns across the region.

WDAZ (via Forum News Service) reports from the frontlines as well that rural residents are “astonished”…

“We are astonished as to why the House would ignore one of the state’s biggest economic development needs,” said Willmar City Council member Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ board. “The lack of high-quality broadband affects communities and regions all across the state. Eliminating state funding for the broadband program will have a grave effect on greater Minnesota.”

Coalition President Heidi Omerza, an Ely City Council member, urged greater Minnesota residents to take action.

“We are calling on civic groups, community leaders and editorial boards to join with us in asking the House Republicans to reconsider their decision and restore funding for the broadband program this year,” Omerza said. “We simply cannot allow our lawmakers to stifle economic growth in greater Minnesota by refusing to fund this critical need.”

The League of Minnesota Cities on Friday urged its members to contact legislators to support broadband funding. The league told its members that broadband resources are “critical for cities’ economic development and vitality.”

The chairman of the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Committee did not appear to be allowing the rural firestorm to affect him.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said that wired broadband, which provides high-speed Internet connections, is too costly in sparsely populated areas. He said wireless and satellite technologies are more financially effective.

The chairman said he thinks negotiations with the Senate and governor will result in a compromise.

“Like every flight, there will be some turbulence, but I expect a smooth landing,” Garofalo said.

Garofalo said businesses that could provide satellite and wireless service are not interested in state aid because of strings that could come with it.

Governor Dayton’s office reports…

Lt. Governor Tina Smith released the following statement today concerning House Republicans’ proposal to eliminate funding for the Minnesota Broadband Infrastructure Grant Fund.

“I am disappointed in House Republicans’ proposal to eliminate funding for greater Minnesota broadband infrastructure.

“In its first year alone, this program has partnered with private providers and local governments to expand broadband access to thousands of households, 150 businesses, and 83 libraries, town halls, schools, and other community institutions in greater Minnesota. Access to high-speed, affordable broadband Internet is not just nice; it is necessary.

“If we want economic prosperity to be broadly shared in every corner of our state, we need to give our communities and businesses the tools they need to succeed. I urge House Republican lawmakers to reconsider these cuts, and I am committed to working with them to make progress on this critical economic issue.”

There’s more room for voicesif you have an opinion!

This entry was posted in Funding, 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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