As with sports, it’s good to have stretch broadband goals if you want to win

My friend was an amazing athlete in grade school. To start – he was 6 feet tall by seventh grade and had been playing ball since he could walk. He was the home-run king!

Then a funny thing happened summer before high school, lots of kids grew to 6 feet and beyond. And those kids who started playing ball in third grade had eventually put in their 10,000 hours. It was such a shame – suddenly he wasn’t so amazing. If only things could have stayed the way they were. But they can’t and if you want a winning team you can’t want that.

You know what else can’t stay the same? Broadband speeds!

Minnesota WatchDog recently ran an article disparaging the state speed goals. Here’s a quick reminder of speed goals:

  • Old goal by 2015: 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 Mbps up. This goal was established in 2010. I remember those conversations; it was considered a stretch goal at the time.
  • New goal by 2022: 25 down and 3 up
  • New goal by 2026: 100 down and 20 up

WatchDog spoke to “a member of that task force who wished to speak only on background” and said…

But the wrinkle is the task force’s stretch goal of 100 mbps download and 20 mbps upload by 2026 has become the de facto standard when it comes to state broadband funding. In fact, a member of that task force who wished to speak only on background said there likely would have been more pushback on that stretch goal if committee members had realized lawmakers would tie grant funds to that number.

I remember those conversations too. The new 2022 goals are in line with FCC standards. It was a minimal increase in download speeds and a significant decrease in upload speeds from the previous Minnesota goals. (The FCC broadband definition was 4/1 in 2010, then 25/3 in 2015. Before 2010 it was 768 kbps. That trajectory seems unlikely to slow down.)

The 2022 goals are like trying to be an amazing 8th grade athlete. It’s better than not making the team but it’s not going to help much in high school unless you’re working on that too. In the broadband world that means building a system that will upgrade with the needs, which means future-focused goals.

The 2026 goals are more forward focused. Spending grant money on projects that focus on these goals means we’re preparing for the future. You can contrast that with CAF 2 funding, which is federal funding that only requires 10/1 speeds. To be competitive (to make the high school team) those areas will need to readdress broadband again, very soon – except in places where the provider chooses to go above and beyond what is required. (Sunrise Township is one area where state funds have leveraged CAF money and pushed the required speeds.)

I also sat in on many conversations on broadband with legislators. One recurring theme – how much would it take to fix this problem for good? To fix the problem for good we need to set future focused goals.

Earlier this year I looked at each county and their broadband situation. They are some amazing athletes in that bunch – like Clearwater who went from least served list of 2010 to more than 99 percent coverage today (25/3) and 73 percent with access to 100/20. But some folks are going backwards – folks who thought they were covered in 2010 but the rest of the team is passing them by.

Want to know how your county is doing? Check out the table of goals met by county. Counties with a wide difference between their percentage coverage of 25/3 versus 100/20 may be in a precarious position because that can be an indicator of infrastructure that is not scalable – in other words it won’t support 100/20 access. You may be that amazing grade school athlete – you want to find out how to make the team next year.

This entry was posted in Funding, 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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