The Center for Rural Policy and Development published a primer article on broadband in Minnesota. I think it should be required reading for policymakers and community leaders who find themselves in a discussion of broadband where they are nodding but not entirely understanding all of the implications of the topic. A little bit like me talking to the car mechanic. CRPD have done a nice job of describing the technology at level that’s informative but not overwhelming and outlining the potential impact of policy decisions – based very specifically on what has been happening in Minnesota for the last two years.
Here’s a sneak preview of their recommendations…
How can policy makers help?
• Let solutions be decided at the local level. The best solutions for communities will be based on many factors, including population density, terrain, and what customers can afford. The factors will vary considerably from place to place.
• Don’t try to choose between fiber and wireless. It will probably take a combination of both technologies to meet a community’s needs. Instead, weigh the importance to communities and to the state’s economy as a whole of getting fast Internet speeds versus getting any Internet at all.
• At the same time, make sure that state funds are being used to create upgradeable, future-ready networks and not just good-enough systems.
• Help mitigate those barriers to entry. Free-market solutions won’t work unless there are more viable players on the field. A little competition has done wonders in the past to motivate reluctant broadband providers to provide actual broadband.
• Understand that symmetric-speed networks that have generous upload speeds are crucial for economic activity. In addition to regular businesses, more and more people are setting up home-based businesses or becoming “1099ers,” independent contractors, especially in rural areas. We need to be a state of producers, not just consumers.
• Pay attention to strengthening the overall network. A reliable, robust network will keep speeds high and won’t be as likely to break down, which will be very attractive to businesses and will keep the system running strong into the future.
And instructive diagrams…