Broadband Recommendations: What can Minnesota learn from North Carolina?

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) recently unveiled a report on Broadband Connectivity in North Carolina. Here’s a quick summary…

Recognizing the state’s need for better Internet connectivity, the Broadband Infrastructure Office issued a report in mid-2016 entitled, “Connecting North Carolina State Broadband Plan.”

That plan is essentially a “one-hand-on-deck” policy that naively pins the future of the state on the big telephone and cable companies. North Carolina should adopt an “all-hands-ondeck” approach that recognizes the need for a mix of business models in providing essential infrastructure across the state.

Local leaders are better equipped to solve their problems than micro-managers from Raleigh. Some communities will embrace cooperatives, some may find ways of attracting private companies, and some may choose to work with Wilson or duplicate it. This report recommends that North Carolina remove its barriers to local choice and focus on encouraging more sources of investment rather than focusing largely on firms based outside of the state.

Here are the specific recommendations…

North Carolina should embrace an all-handson-deck philosophy. Given the tremendous need for improved Internet access, the state should welcome all manner of investment rather than restricting those most impacted: communities themselves. We offer the following recommendations:

  1. Remove barriers to cooperative investment.
  2. Allow communities to decide for themselves if a municipal investment is appropriate, and if so, what business model most fits local needs, challenges, and culture.
  3. Expand Internet access from existing locally accountable networks.
  4. Create a state program to offer matching grants or a revolving loan fund.

mn-coops-mapMinnesota has done well to get a state matching grant to support, but at the recent Broadband Communities Conference, ILSR, handed out a very abbreviated – but helpful – one-sheet on how Cooperatives and Local Governments Can Solve Rural Digital Divide that included some Minnesota Statues that they say discourage local governments from investing in next-generation infrastructure…

Minnesota Statue 237.19 (from the year 1915) requires that a municipality receive a majority vote of at least 65% in order to “operate a telephone exchange.” Referendums are often one-sided affairs where incumbents outspend community network advocates anywhere from 10:1 to 60:1.

Minnesota Statue 429.021 Section 19 only allows a municipality to build Internet access infrastructure if those services are not available and will not soon become available and the service will not compete with private services.

These two laws strong discourage local investment in next-generation  networks, even where the private sector is not investing, because their vague definitions open governments to lawsuits.

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

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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