MinnPost on the Broadband situation at the MN Legislature: COVID boosts need for speed

MinnPost takes a look at the Minnesota Broadband Task Force report and broadband-focused activity at the Legislature. Most of it I’ve written about in the past, although I think it’s informative to see how mainstream media covered the issue. The headline and subtitle are…

What the pandemic revealed about Minnesota’s efforts to bring high-speed internet to everyone in the state

As Minnesota lawmakers debate new spending on broadband, a task force says the pandemic has highlighted the need for faster speeds.

The article looks at the history of the grant program…

Since 2014, the state has plunged $126.2 million into the broadband program, helping build enough internet infrastructure to serve more than 56,800 homes, businesses and other customers. That number includes the latest round of funding announced in late January: $20.6 million for 39 projects.

They touch upon the issues of the RDOF federal funding clashing with the Minnesota State funding. They look at how the rate of broadband expansion has slowed, due in part to the increased difficulty and cost in reaching certain areas…

The latest data shows that 100/20 Mbps coverage improved at a far slower rate between 2019 and 2020 than in years prior, and less of the state had 25/3 coverage in October 2020 (92.47 percent) than in April 2019 (92.7 percent). Dickison said the issue was a mapping mistake by providers rather than an actual decrease in service on the ground, but the episode illustrates how gains have become slower and more difficult.

They look at the Task Force report..

In fact, the broadband task force said in its 2020 report that Minnesota’s speed goals should be reevaluated again, particularly in light of the pandemic. People who work or attend school from home are doing more than using the internet for basic functions like sending emails without huge attachments, reading social media or streaming video.

Specifically, the report says Minnesota should emphasize increasing upload speeds for activities like video calls, and notes 3 Mbps upload service “inadequate to support remote business and education needs and can no longer be considered high-speed broadband.”

While projects now must be built to allow them to be upgraded to 100/100 Mbps, the task force report says there is no current mechanism or funding to ensure that the infrastructure is actually changed to meet those speeds. In other words, even if the state meets its 2022 goal — or even its 2026 mark — experts say more will need to be done.

And finally, they outlines the various proposals for continued grant funding…

The governor’s task force recommended $120 million in funding for the broadband grant program over the next two years — as well as in each budget cycle thereafter — and that all future awards should be for projects that can deliver speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps.

Walz, however, proposed $50 million for the program next year and no money for the program in the 2023 fiscal year. The administration claims in budget documents the $50 million will be enough to meet the 25/3 Mbps goal by the end of 2022 and “pave the way” for the 2026 goal of 100/20 Mbps.

And a proposal that’s on the way…

Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake who chairs the Senate’s Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee, which has jurisdiction over broadband issues at the Legislature, said he planned to introduce his own bill that he expects to be similar to Bakk’s $120 million bill.

Westrom said the state should focus on unserved areas rather than looking too far ahead at new speed goals. “For the students of my districts that don’t have access to high-speed internet, 25/3 (Mbps) is magnificent for them,” Westrom said.

It’s hard not to think of the inherent divide when students in Elbow Lake are hoping to get 25/3 and my kid in St Paul could get fiber. It’s hard enough doing all school work from home without the added buffering or scheduling broadband intensive action with siblings.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy 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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