NY Times on need for big push for universal service – maybe look at MN Model?

The NY Times posted an editorial on the need for ubiquitous broadband

Electrifying the entire country a century ago was made possible by a coordinated federal plan from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to areas outside city centers through federal loans to small cooperatives formed to bring power lines and generators to their communities.

While such a centralized effort may be unlikely today without the urgency of the New Deal, the coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service. …

It seems like the urgency of COVID19 may be as strong as the urgency of the New Deal. At least there are coordinated efforts and agreement on the need…

Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind. A House bill to accelerate deployment of the $20.4 billion overseen by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a start, but the F.C.C. has estimated it could take $80 billion to reach nearly every American without broadband. House Democrats proposed in April that more than $80 billion be authorized over five years for broadband expansion.

“People are afraid of the price tag,” said Mr. Clyburn, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

I’d like for everyone in Minnesota to raise our hands so that they see us and recognize the wisdom of the Minnesota model – especially in terms of the MN State Border to Border grants. There are (at least) two things I think make the grant program successful.

They recognize that speed matters. Grant projects must “support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 100 megabits per second upload.“ When scoring applications they also look at extent of improvement in an area and score accordingly. The beauty of this is that they are investing in a long term solution, not a Band-Aid.

They recognize that community matters.  Again in the application scoring, they award points for “substantive evidence of community support for the project.” Community support should indicate demand, which should help with return on investment. Community support should indicate that the provider and community have created a plan that meets the needs of both parties. Community support should indicate Interest in using the network – similar to demand except it should help the community reap the benefits.

The Office of Broadband Development also awards points for projects that include tribal communities. Some tribal areas in Minnesota are well served; others are terribly behind. Awarding points to serve them may help increase access.

These are the only winning ingredients but they are three I want to call out.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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