Better federal broadband coordination is needed – is MN a good model?

The New York Times posted an column from Christopher Ali, professor at University of Virginia on the need to better coordinate federal funding for rural broadband…

Despite the large amount of funding coming from the Rural Utilities Service and the F.C.C., rural America has not seen broadband deployed and adopted at the same speed and effectiveness that it had with electricity and telephone service almost a century ago. The reason for this lag is a lack of coordinated federal policies, which in turn has allowed major telecommunications companies to receive a large portion of these funds without much regulatory accountability. An opaque set of grant and loan stipulations make it difficult for communities to apply for funding, and in some states, a series of laws actively prohibit or inhibit towns and cooperatives from wiring their own communities.

Ali points out that investment is being made but not in a coordinated way that is accessible to smaller providers. But he points to Minnesota as a model worth considering…

I recently traveled to the Midwest to find out where and how federal broadband policies have failed rural America. I spoke with residents, business owners, broadband providers, farmers and officials, and they all told me about the need for high-speed connectivity and a renewed federal strategy.

On the trip, I learned how high-speed broadband keeps professionals living and working in rural America, like the insurance agent I met in Rock County, Minn., who no longer has to lease a second office to digitally file paperwork. It keeps rural businesses competitive, like the radio station in Rock County that no longer needs to subscribe to two Verizon accounts, paying over $1,000 per month for internet service. And it keeps rural students studying, since around 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection. Rock County is one example of how communities in rural America can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by broadband.

Almost every state has a broadband deployment plan, Minnesota foremost among them. With so many plans, however, come as many definitions of broadband, target speeds, eligibility requirements for grants and a host of unique priorities. To ensure that high-speed broadband is available for all rural Americans, regardless of state, we need a national rural broadband plan. Standardizing state rural broadband policies isn’t enough: We need a plan to identify and galvanize stakeholders — not just the major telecommunications companies — to inspire change in our current policy approach and democratize the funding process, and to champion the cause of rural broadband across the country. President Franklin Roosevelt and the Rural Electrification Administration did it in 1936 with electricity. We can do the same today.

He ends by pointing out that we need to make changes to who gets the federal funding if we want to serve rural MN…

Last, this national rural broadband policy would show the United States is serious about global competition in community connectivity, agriculture, data processing, telemedicine, education and a host of other industries. Our lack of universal broadband means we are losing that competition. We are losing because we are not taking all stakeholders into account. We are losing because of a lack of coordinated and coherent policies. We are losing because major telecommunications companies get the bulk of funding and fail to deliver. We are losing because the agencies in charge of rural broadband do not even know who has broadband and who does not.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Policy, Vendors 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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