Minnesota has some enviable broadband tools: Blandin, Office of Broadband Development, Grants

Representative Tom Sloan (from Kansas) has an editorial in the latest Broadband Communities Magazine. He asks – How can state legislators help spread the gigabit wealth to more constituents?

Spoiler alert – I think he just might be looking at Minnesota as a model for broadband support as he makes his wish list. The job is not done in Minnesota, but Sloan’s article helps me recognize how far down the right road we are.

He focuses on the role of small providers…

Will community and independent broadband providers be able to respond to rising customer expectations and technological capabilities as quickly as investor-owned providers? Opportunities exist for communities to seek innovative partnerships with independent broadband providers that may use alternative broadband delivery [t]echnologies or have different business models that require lower rates of return than do the large providers.

In Minnesota the Border to Border grants have been an opportunity for communities to work with providers large and small. The state funding gets people to the table. And having talked to a couple of smaller providers (Paul Bunyan and HBC) they don’t have a lower rate of return as much as a slower return on investment. The funds are managed by the Office of Broadband Development, which serves as information source (and sometimes project matchmaker) for potential applicants – as well as finding time to make sure Minnesota is aware of new technologies and opportunities outside the state.

He recognizes that while Kansas doesn’t have any restrictions on community networks, they don’t have much support either…

No one seems to be offering any positive assistance that would help Kansas communities get better broadband. … No statewide organization in Kansas provides direct assistance to communities seeking information about developing a broadband system, and no statewide system provides technical assistance to municipalities with an operating broadband system. … A municipality can contract with independent engineers to design a broadband system, but where in the state do city leaders turn for guidance on how to structure an RFP, how to train system operators or where to seek financing and service pricing information?

Minnesota is fortunate that the Blandin Foundation has stepped up in this role. Communities can get support in starting or maintaining a broadband efforts through the Community Broadband Resource Program, they help fund feasibility studies and have ongoing training in the form of monthly webinars and annual conferences.

It’s a powerful one-two punch in Minnesota – but it’s not an immediate knock out. So while we have some enviable resources – we have to remind policymakers that we’re on the right track but we’re not done. Rep Sloan offers some advice we can heed here…

Educate legislators about what keeps you awake at night. We cannot help if we do not understand.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy 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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