Minnesota sets a broadband example for other states, such as Virginia

Nice to see other states look to Minnesota as a broadband model. The Roanoke Times reports that Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for governor, it using MN as a model…

Now we come to the money shot: Northam calls for the state to work with telecom providers to establish a set of broadband goals. “Similar to the legislation Minnesota has passed, Virginia needs a clear set of metrics to evaluate broadband access, upload and download speeds, as well as Virginia’s rank among our neighbors.”

So just what is that Minnesota law he’s referencing? A fascinating one.

In 2010, Minnesota realized that high-speed connections are as essential to the new economy as high-speed transportation links are. More importantly, it decided to do something about it. That year, the state enacted a remarkable law that set specific goals to be achieved by 2015.

He pulls out two lessons specifically…

The lesson for us: While Northam makes his proposal in the context of a governor’s race, there’s no reason why this plan should be partisan. It seems the sort of thing Virginia should do regardless of whether the next governor is Northam or Ed Gillespie, his Republican opponent. It’s really a pretty business-like approach. We pay attention to lots of other rankings — business climate, tax burden, and so forth. This just adds broadband as another infrastructure data point.

The second important lesson from Minnesota is that the state is agnostic toward who provides broadband to rural areas. This year, the state has $35 million available for grants. Private firms are eligible for those. So are non-profits. So are local governments. Minnesota doesn’t have an ideological hang-up over municipal broadband the way some in Virginia do. Earlier this year, Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, tried to push through a bill that would have effectively crippled municipal broadband in the state. The theory may be sound: Government shouldn’t compete with private industry. The reality is more complicated: If private enterprise could make money on rural broadband, it would already be doing so. It can’t, so it’s not. Minnesota understands that the practicality of rural economic development is more important than some academic philosophy.

Minnesota has done a good job – but the job isn’t finished. Let’s hope we can continue to be a shining star with bipartisan support for continued funding.

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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