Aaron Brown (aka Minnesota Brown) has been a long time, vocal advocate of rural Broadband. I remember when he celebrated when fiber came to his neighborhood on the Iron Range!
This week he talks about what it’s like to be in a community without broadband and with limited prospects…
Thus, the United States has deferred to private companies to expand our broadband footprint. Those private companies have been loathe to invest in rural areas where they won’t see an immediate return on investment.
This has put the federal, state and even local governments in the business of waiting for those private companies to change their mind.
Usually, the general policy is to just ignore the broadband issue and tell rural residents that they’ll have internet in “5-10 years” when some combination of new technology and new private investment will enter the picture. They said this 5-10 years ago and 5-10 years before that.
Frustration over this endless delay has created demand for new rural broadband solutions. These have been implemented in all sorts of ways.
Recognizes Minnesota’s approach…
Here in Minnesota, state matching grants have helped several projects get off the ground, including one that brought fiber service to MinnesotaBrown World Headquarters. However, these grants have been limited to about $30-$35 million per biennium. This state money is then matched by some other source, usually private investment. In our case, it was a cooperative.
And a special nod to Iron Range neighbors who have gone all out to provide broadband for their residents…
And then we have the news this week that the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa was simply going to build a fiber network of its own. The $8 million plan, including matching funds from a federal program, will serve 900 unserved households on its reservation.
On one hand that’s a steep price — more than $6,000 per household. But on the other, it means improved quality of life, access to education and the potential for future job opportunities for those on the reservation. The impact could last decades. It depends on whether you perceive internet as a utility that is necessary for modern life or not.
Typically, opposition to this kind of broadband infrastructure comes down to the sheer cost of it. (“I know it’s good for people, but it’s too expensive”). Or it comes down to some kind of futuristic tech mythos. (They’ll be delivering the same thing through the air in 5-10 years, so don’t bother).
To that I would say that rural people are right to demand that they join the information age now, not later.