MinnPost recently ran an editorial from former Senator, current policy & projects director for Growth & Justice, Matt Schmit. Matt has worked tirelessly for better broadband in rural Minnesota for years. He outlines the current situation at the Legislature…
Between 2014 and 2016, the state Legislature and governor committed more than $65 million to extending broadband connectivity to Minnesota homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions. Gov. Mark Dayton is calling for an additional $60 million investment for the next budget period and a nonpartisan broadband task force has proposed an additional $100 million. But the Minnesota Legislature so far is recommending less than $20 million – a significant step back and big letdown to the dozens of communities across the state poised to improve their connectivity in 2017.
For many communities throughout Greater Minnesota and families living outside city limits, reliable internet connectivity is anything but a given. At last measure, roughly 20 percent of rural Minnesota homes and businesses lack access to broadband – defined at modest 25 Mbps (megabits per second) for download and 3 Mbps for upload speeds.
The connectivity conundrum in Minnesota and elsewhere boils down to simple market failure, where demand for broadband is significant but spread out, and the supply of provider investment dollars is limited. It’s a completely understandable situation – but it’s not a reality we have to accept.
He points out some bumps in the road to better broabdand…
In its first three years, the competitive matching grant fund has leveraged over $81 million in private and local funds to make possible 73 projects around the state – roughly half the applications received. The approach is a great example of how smart public investment partnered with private sector or service cooperative know-how can make a real difference for Minnesotans.
But at the state Legislature, the road to better broadband has been bumpy and wrought with the usual twists and turns: false equivocation, bad information, and narrow ideology.
For instance, some buy into the notion that wireless technology will make hardwire connections obsolete. To be sure, wireless access and the “internet of things” is our future. Heck, it’s our present. But for those in Greater Minnesota interested in starting a home-based business, taking advantage of flexible work schedules or telecommuting, participating in distance learning or telehealth, wireless is a great complement – not a competitor – for hardwire service such as fiber. Oftentimes, end-user applications and employers alike require the bandwidth, reliability, and affordability of hardwire connections.
Similarly, dated hardwire technologies or seemingly modern but nonetheless inadequate options such as the latest satellite-based service fall short of the bandwidth and reliability standards for distance learning, telehealth, or working from home.
And, remember, for every internet application that’s sufficiently supported by wireless or cellular technology, a hardwired fiber connection delivers the internet to the closest tower. Extending that fiber to homes and businesses removes fears of poor reliability or monthly data caps from the equation altogether.
And make the case for legislators to think of bigger investment for broadband…
Broadband remains the greatest of equalizers for economic opportunity, competitiveness, and quality of life in Greater Minnesota.
The 2016 Legislature recognized this fact and doubled its prior investment in Minnesota’s “Border to Border Broadband” competitive matching grant fund. Now the 2017 Legislature has a chance to build momentum around a proven approach to extending the reach of broadband, leveling the connected playing field, and promoting economic opportunity across the state.