Broadband grants are catalyst for broadband in remote areas of Minnesota

The FedGazette has taken a deeper drive into broadband access in Minnesota. They recognize that it’s difficult to make a business case to service rural areas…

Such speeds often require an optical fiber connection, but it’s difficult for telecom firms to justify laying expensive fiber infrastructure in sparsely populated places. “There are areas where you just can’t make a business case to provide broadband,” said Brent Christensen, CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, a trade association.

And they recognize the need for government support…

Over the past two decades federal, state and local governments have intervened in telecom markets to bring high-speed internet service to unserved or underserved areas.

More than any other district state, Minnesota has striven to extend the reach of broadband. The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), has dispensed $65 million to internet providers over the past three years to support broadband projects across the state. By subsidizing the upfront cost of broadband infrastructure in areas still off the broadband map, the grants have helped to make high-speed internet service available to nearly 26,000 households and more than 3,100 businesses around the state.

But despite coverage gains under the program, a yawning urban-rural broadband gap remains. And this spring the Minnesota Legislature cut the Border-to-Border program by over 40 percent, allocating $20 million for the next round of grants (applications are due in September) and nothing for next year.

The cuts represent another swing of the pendulum in a national debate about the role of government in fostering broadband development. Are taxpayer-funded grants, loans and other subsidies the best way to ensure that rural residents aren’t bypassed by the information superhighway?

The Border-to-Border program is a case study of what can be accomplished with a modicum of state funding—and the challenges of overcoming long-standing barriers to broadband deployment in rural areas.

And detail the impact of state…

The Border-to-Border program has proved a catalyst for rolling out broadband in remote areas of Minnesota by covering part of the upfront cost and thus reducing the price paid by subscribers. Often a state grant is the capstone of a financing package drawn from multiple sources, public and private—the final piece that elevates a rural project from pipe dream to reality.

Without such support the price of broadband service in many rural areas would be “exponentially higher,” said Gary Johnson, CEO of Paul Bunyan Communications, a telecom cooperative in northern Minnesota.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, MN Broadband Fund Awards, MN Office of Broadband Development, 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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