Daily Yonder looks at some of Minnesota’s broadband assets

Conference planners were delighted to have Tim Marema from Daily Yonder join the Broadband conference last month. The Daily Yonder is a well respected publication that focuses on rural issues. Tim has written about broadband and technology in the past. And it can be eye opening to have someone from the outside take a look at what’s happening in Minnesota and report out because I think in Minnesota we don’t already recognize what we have.

Tim interviewed Danna MacKenzie from the Office of Broadband Development. There are two assets leading to better broadband in Minnesota – both the office and the person. Minnesota is lucky to have policymakers that value broadband enough to fund the office – as well as the grants they administer. Minnesota is lucky to have someone like Danna who has been working on the frontlines for almost 20 years to provide an innovative and balanced approach to the issue and opportunity of broadband expansion.

They spoke a lot about the Blandin Foundation, which has dedicated considerable resources to furthering broadband deployment and adoption and finally they spoke about the unique advantage Minnesota’s cooperative rules play in winning approaches to expanding broadband.

Here are two questions from the interview…

Daily Yonder: How did you move from your county of 5,000 residents to your current position as executive director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development?

MacKenzie: The Blandin Foundation [based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota] has been running rural broadband capacity-building activities for many years. Thankfully, they are also active in community leadership development in rural areas of our state. They have a strong, long tradition of that. … I came into the process through that and so have been on the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Strategy Board for many years. [The Broadband Strategy Board consists of private and public leaders who advise the foundation on its broadband initiative. Ed.] Through that work I got involved at a statewide level and not just the community that I was living in. That ultimately led to an appointment at the governor’s task force [on broadband] and then a request that I consider coming into my current role as the executive director of the Office of Broadband Development.

Daily Yonder: One thing I’ve heard repeatedly in Minnesota’s broadband discussion are references to the co-op model — where consumers are the owners. Is there something special about Minnesota and co-operatives?

MacKenzie: There is actually. My understanding is … that Minnesota has one of the most progressive co-op laws in the country, so co-ops have a fertile ground to thrive in Minnesota. We have a strong presence of both telephone and electric co-ops in the state, and they are both increasingly becoming engaged in this issue, realizing that they have some resources already in place to springboard them to be natural partners in getting a solution in place where there isn’t already something happening.

For electric co-ops, it’s challenging because electric co-op boards are extremely conservative people who are there to protect the assets of their fellow co-op members. So to help them understand what this broadband issue is and how their co-op can play a role and not jeopardize the assets that they’ve built, that’s a really interesting question that we’re working on right now. We’re seeing more and more of them come to the table and ask good questions that indicate that they may be changing about their interest in getting in the game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s