What is served? Are we serving to survive or thrive?

The Observer recently published a letter to the editor from an investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation. He doesn’t agree with Senator Warren’s broadband proposal, which he describes…

“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford,” she wrote.

That plan entails creating an Office of Broadband Access within her planned Department of Economic Development, which would manage an $85 billion federal grant program. Warren’s plan calls for cooperatives, non-profit groups, tribes and state and local governments to get that money. The plan would bar private providers from having access to any funding.

The grants, which would cover 90 percent of each project’s cost, would go toward fiber infrastructure in unserved or underserved areas, though the state-to-state definition of the term makes that a tricky proposition.

The article caught my eye because he compares Warren’s proposal to the Minnesota model…

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts recently found large discrepancies in how states define those terms. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation (TPAF) previously reported on how Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Fund deems an area receiving download speeds of less than 100 megabits per second (mbps) as underserved and an area receiving less than 25 mbps as unserved. A state broadband task force member chided those metrics, telling TPAF they inflated the numbers for poor internet accessibility. (For reference: in 2015, the FCC increased its broadband standard from 10 mbps to 25 mbps. Internet speeds between six and 10 mbps are generally fast enough to stream a high-def  video.)

Warren calls for grant recipients to connect every home in their application areas, with at least one plan offering symmetrical 100 mbps speeds and a discount plan for low-income customers.

The TPAF article on the MN model is two years old. One unnamed naysayer from within the Task Force doesn’t represent the general feel for the approach. The MN model has been lauded and replicated (sometimes modified) by several other states. It is worth nothing that MN does and has given grants to larger providers.

One of the key parts of the MN model is that broadband is seen as an economic development tool. As such, the plan is to invest to see a return on that investment (and we have seen one) not just to see broadband for broadband’s sake. That approach of looking at broadband as an investment, not just a cost has worked in Minnesota. We track several stories of how broadband improved businesses and communities in our report on ROI – but one very recent example is Red Wing Ignite, a community we looked at for the report. They just got $750,000 in federal grants to support further innovation.

It’s a weird analogy but barely adequate broadband is like giving someone fish. Yes, they can access email and maybe even watch Netflix. But real broadband is like a fishing pole. Now you can innovate!

This entry was posted in MN, Policy, uncategorized 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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