Roberto Gallardo’s recent paper on digital inclusion offers the following recommendations are meant to strengthen federal and state policies so that they may better support initiatives such as those discussed above:
- Align Federal and State Policies around Digital Inclusion and Equity
- Increase Community Awareness of the Importance of Digital Inclusion
- Provide Digital Inclusion–Specific Funding
- Support and Incentivize Digital Inclusion through Local Solutions
And one way they got to those recommendations was by looking at the Minnesota Broadband model…
One example of an effective state policy framework is the Minnesota Border-to-Border broadband grant program. It began in 2014 and is one piece of a comprehensive statewide approach to digital inclusiveness known as the “Minnesota Model.” This model launched in 2008 with a set of broadband goals proposed by a statewide task force appointed by the governor and adopted by the legislature. Progress is reviewed annually and consists of four interacting components: statutory goals, data and mapping, an Office of Broadband Development (OBD), and a grant program. This dynamic plan responds to the changing needs of communities and Internet service providers (ISPs) and to the intelligence garnered through data monitoring and measurement. The OBD serves as the central broadband planning body for the state. It operationalizes the various elements outlined in the law, such as administering the Border-to-Border broadband grant program as well as a telecommuter forward program. Another critical role of the OBD is to accurately map broadband deployment throughout the state to aid in the planning and monitoring of broadband infrastructure investments.
According to Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement for the Blandin Foundation (a member of the statewide task force), these mutually reinforcing broadband plan elements constitute a critical civic infrastructure that strengthens the capacity and voice of local communities. This civic infrastructure provides support to broadband access and adoption throughout the state from setting broadband goals to supporting the OBD and to state mapping of broadband infrastructure and unmet needs (Interview, January 2020).
Statewide connectivity goals adopted in 2010 called for universal access at 10–20 Mbps download and 5–10 Mbps upload. By 2016, these goals were updated to universal access at 25/3 Mbps by 2022 and 100/20 Mbps by 2026. To achieve these goals, the Border-to-Border broadband grant program has invested more than US$85 million in broadband infrastructure in 110 projects connecting nearly 39,000 homes, businesses, and farms while leveraging roughly US$110 million in private and local matching funds. By the end of 2018, 86 percent of homes and businesses had access to 100/20 Mbps up from 39 percent in 2015. Also, 93 percent of homes and businesses had access to 25/3 Mbps up from 70 percent in 2011. In 2019, the legislature appropriated an additional US$40 million in funding for broadband grants over the following two years.
According to Angie Dickson, OBD broadband development manager, the state of Minnesota recognized early on that broadband access is a vital component of the state’s economy and all of its communities, especially its rural ones (Interview, January 2020). By maintaining this commitment consistently over time, Minnesota has taken major strides toward achieving digital inclusiveness.