Minnesota Broadband on the Hill Day: 80+ citizens 40+ legislators

More than 80 people joined the Minnesota Broadband Coalition at the Capitol earlier today. It started with a breakfast with Lt Governor Tina Smith, a panel with Legislators and a press conference. I was impressed with the substantive discussion. People want broadband. People need broadband.

Folks were talking about how much money would be available for Border to Border funds. It was nice that there was no discussion on whether or not to fund the fund – just talks about how much. The amount bandied about ranged from $100 million to $30-35 million a year – for two years or even on an ongoing basis. Representative Garofalo announced that there would be a big announcement in 30 days related to broadband – but didn’t give details. We heard stories of great success and stories are great need. It’s really punctuated the point – broadband is a game changer. Communities with broadband thrive and those without it feel the pain.

Legislative Panel

First Part of Press Confernece

*Note we had some interruptions with the live video. We’re not broadcast quality … yet!

After the sessions, rural community members met with their legislators – more than 40 legislators participated. A lot of a good conversation happened.

And starting soon (5:00) there’s a reception at the Rathskller in the basement of the Capitol.

Here are notes from Mark’s Erickson’s portion of the press conference…

Broadband Day on the Hill Remarks

Good morning. Thanks to everyone for coming.

I’m here today to talk about the importance of ultra-high-speed broadband, what challenges RS Fiber had in bringing the project to fruition and to talk about the need for public funding to grow more fiber networks.

There have been several transformative technology changes during the past 150 years. From railroads, to electricity, to radio and TV, computers, medicine and transportation, to name a few, the pace of change has been constant and unrelenting.

The big one in the 20th Century was electricity. When Nicholas Tesla perfected alternating current in the late 1800s, he unwittingly changed the world forever.

But it was the growth of electrical distribution networks to communities and farms in rural America that really provided the fuel for innovation and growth. The electrification of Rural America was a seminal moment in the history of this country.

Today we are challenged to find a way to grow a fiber network with the same potential to lift rural communities from their second class technology status to full partners.

The ten communities and 17 townships in the RS Fiber Cooperative project worked collaboratively to not just find a way to construct a fiber network but to develop new learning opportunities for education, new health care delivery models, new ways for people to live independently longer and to grow new businesses and business opportunities.

The RS Fiber network is the most important economic development and quality of life tool we have today in Renville and Sibley counties.

The fiber to the home and farm network will not just put us on par with our city cousins, it will vault us ahead of larger cities with respect to access to nearly unlimited amounts of bandwidth for years, if not decades, to come.

We had our share of challenges when we started work on the network late in 2008.

We spent the first 18 months talking with our phone and cable providers urging them to work with us to build the network. We even suggested a partnership that would have us pay for the network while allowing them to operate and eventually own it.

Our primary concern wasn’t ownership, it was access.

Interestingly when we decided to move forward as a collaboration of cities and counties we faced very little opposition from our friends and neighbors as we began to educate them.

The story of fiber to the home is easy to tell. The information is overwhelmingly positive.

In more than 100 public presentations, we told an honest and sincere story about how fiber can be a game changer in rural communities. We didn’t disrespect our providers and we acknowledged the risk that comes with building a brand new network that will have to compete with existing networks.

As we told our story, people quickly realized that the real risk in the project was to do nothing.  If we had decided to wait for the providers to affect change, our children might be having the same conversations in 10 years.

And the reason for that isn’t because the providers don’t care about their customers or Rural Minnesota, because they obviously do.

Providers need the financial nudge offered by the State Broadband grant program to be able to maintain their profitability while making the necessary higher cost investment.

The state of Minnesota leads the nation in many respects through its active involvement and financial support for next generation networks.

I have attended scores of broadband conferences across the nation during the past 15 years and talked with literally hundreds of people from many states and I can honestly report most, if not all, are envious of what we are doing here in Minnesota.

The Office of Broadband Technology is an outstanding example of a government agency that works in a very impartial and efficient manner to get the job done. The office needs to be funded.

The state broadband grant program has provided about $65 million to the cause since it was created. We all appreciate the financial support provided by our elected representatives we should be spending more.

We need to fund the fund in an amount that will meet the current demand being shown by rural communities, counties and providers.

I support the $100 million figure put forth by the governor’s Broadband Task Force.

Fiber networks are the electrical networks of the 21st Century.

If we want to truly improve the lives of all Minnesotans, then we need to find a way to construct a Border to Border fiber optic network capable of providing everyone a symmetrical gigabit connection to the Internet and to each other.

Thank you.

This entry was posted in Conferences, 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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