Federal broadband funding alone isn’t enough for Minnesota rural communities to meet state goals, finds new report

A press release from the Blandin Foundation about a new report written by Bill Coleman on the implementation of CAF 2 funded networks in two Minnesota communities…

A new Blandin Foundation report finds that telecommunications companies relying only on Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund (CAF II) to build broadband networks in rural Minnesota will not equip residents with speeds that meet the state’s broadband goals. The paper, “Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons Learned from Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved,” explores the effects federal broadband investments are having in Lindstrom and Braham, MN.

The CAF II program is designed to spur broadband development in unserved, high-cost rural areas. The program will infuse $2 billion into broadband projects that make service of at least 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload available to more than 3.6 million homes and businesses across America by 2020. To date, four companies (CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier Communications, and Windstream Communications) in rural Minnesota have received $85.6 million to bring Internet service to 170,355 rural homes and businesses.

Using GIS base maps and a GPS-enabled camera, lead researcher Bill Coleman of Mahtomedi-based Community Technology Advisors, conducted field research to identify CAF II-funded broadband equipment in two rural Minnesota communities, Lindstrom and Braham, MN.

After mapping available speeds to end customers based on their distance from the broadband-fed equipment, Coleman found that, even after CAF II investment, the majority of land within these two exchanges will have access to speeds less that Minnesota’s 2022 state broadband goal of 25/3 mbps. These improvements will fall severely short of Minnesota’s 2026 goal of 100/20 mbps.

“Minnesota has set ambitious broadband speed goals that position our communities for future success,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “It’s important that decision makers know that, without weaving together local, state and federal resources, CAF II-funded projects will be inadequate to support most broadband-based economic and community development. This will hold rural communities back from reaching the potential they imagine for themselves.”

Minnesota can look to examples of communities that have partnered with Internet providers to combine local, state and federal resources to finance and build networks to offer faster service than CAF II-funded networks alone.

Fish Lake Township, located in Chisago County, rallied community residents to support a $1.23 million bond for broadband projects. They combined local money with a $1.8 million Border to Border Broadband Grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and $1.5 million in CAF II funding to build a world-class, fiber-to-the-home network.

“There is a way forward for communities to get the network they want, but it will take collaboration at all levels,” said Joselyn. “Reaching Minnesota’s broadband goals will position our state – both rural and urban communities – to stay competitive in the growing digital economy.”

The full report is online at https://blandinfoundation.org/content/uploads/Impact-of-CAF-II-funded-Networks_WEB.pdf

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