Five ways State Policy can support or deter rural broadband

Pew recently posted an article on the impact of state policy on rural broadband. They found five areas where state policy can have an impact. You’ll see in my abridged version below that Minnesota is mentioned as an example a few places below. (I’ve tried to add note where we aren’t)…

Broadband programs: Many states have tasked a new office or existing agency with responsibility for broadband deployment and asked it to define activities and objectives, including planning, mapping which areas or entities lack it, and administering a broadband grant program. Minnesota,2 for example, is one of seven states that have established a broadband office through a statute or executive order—in its case, the Office of Broadband Development, within the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Nevada,3 Alabama,4 and West Virginia5 are among states that task agencies with broadband responsibilities.

Defining service speed and goals: States are defining broadband and related terms to provide consistency, clarity, and guidance about broadband deployment and service. These definitions are important because they’re often tied to inducements to providers to expand service, such as tax incentives.13 Clear definitions also help determine which unserved or underserved areas are eligible for funding and other programs, factors that can help influence broadband deployment.

Minnesota has two speed goals: ubiquitous coverage to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2022 and ubiquitous coverage to 100/20  by 2026.

Funding and financing: States have also developed funding and financing mechanisms to incentivize companies, nonprofit organizations, and telephone or electric cooperatives to invest in the infrastructure needed to expand broadband. Twenty-five states have established broadband funds, including grant programs such as Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program20 and North Carolina’s Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program.21 Vermont,22 Colorado,23 and eight other states allow their universal service funds and high-cost support mechanisms to support broadband expansion. For more information on how states finance and fund broadband efforts, please see “How States Support Broadband Projects.”

Competition and regulation: More than half of states have statutes identifying which entities outside the private sector can provide broadband service, including cities and towns, municipal utilities, and electric and telephone cooperatives. Missouri24 and West Virginia25 are among a handful of states that have adopted laws clarifying that electric cooperatives can provide commercial broadband service. Some of these stipulate how and where cooperatives can provide service. For example, Tennessee allows electric and telephone cooperatives to provide broadband access as long as they don’t compete with existing cooperatives in markets with fewer than 100,000 customers.26 And Maine allows regional utility districts to be created so that they can provide broadband services.27

Some states limit the provision of internet service by local governments. Minnesota, for example, allows municipalities to “improve, construct, extend, and maintain” broadband networks, but only if the service will not compete with a private provider—and no company is expected to provide broadband to the area in the foreseeable future.28

Infrastructure access: State laws also address how internet service providers can access publicly owned infrastructure, such as sidewalks, roads, and telephone poles, to build their systems. One way is through  “dig once” laws, which require states or localities to install conduit—the empty pipe that internet cables run through—when building or upgrading infrastructure, such as roads, sidewalks, and bridges. These statutes are meant to encourage fiber investment because the land will not need to be dug up for future projects— minimizing frustration for residents and limiting costs for providers and government.

In the meetings in rural Minnesota with Senator Klobuchar’s crew this week, I heard a few providers talking about the importance of streamlining infrastructure access.

This entry was posted in MN, 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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