Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp (BLAEDC) held their annual meeting yesterday online. Turns out the hot topic of the day was also the price of admission – broadband. Keynote speaker was Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the National Telephone Cooperative Association – the Rural Broadband Association.
The Brainerd Dispatch reports on the day…
Bloomfield pointed to the rural electrification of the 1930s that focused on bringing electricity to rural areas where companies hadn’t reached because fewer people made the cost of the service so high. Serving the high density urban areas was relatively easy. That meant rural America was left behind. Cooperatives like CTC filled the gap.
Fast forward to the present where being able to connect to the internet with a reliable service comes with opportunities for education, telemedicine, commerce, business growth and quality of life. Bloomfield said the beauty of the cooperative model is one that is built not on profit but on service. Minnesota, she said, is a stronghold for cooperatives. In rural America, those cooperative members see their customers at schools, in churches and at local stores.
“That makes a really big difference,” Bloomfield said.
They spoke about the need for better mapping and future-focused investment…
Having fiber-optic cable for broadband provides an ability to send data faster and with greater bandwidth, which comes into play for video, internet and voice services. That value is visible when it comes to reselling homes, growing businesses and bringing in new companies. Bloomberg pointed to the need for data and speed when students are home distance learning while parents are trying to work from home. In addition, she said they’ve learned people need to be able to upload as fast as they download, which wasn’t previously the case when it was about downloading an article or email.
“Well now we need to be able to transmit both ways just as fast, that’s a symmetrical network. And that is what fiber can provide,” Bloomfield said, noting as Congress looks at infrastructure, it’s broadband connectivity that is the 21st century superhighway.
To really understand what areas are underserved or not served at all, Bloomfield said mapping is needed. “Congress finally appropriated some money to actually start mapping, that’s going to be a really important first step,” she said. Bloomfield said looking at programs the FCC is considering, it’s going to take about a decade to get the country to 90-95% coverage.
Another important step is to look at what is the best use of federal programs and to avoid overbuilding what has already been put in the ground with programs such as the ones CTC has already utilized to extend service to rural communities. State partnerships need to be incentivized. Bloomfield said she met with 35 states recently and their state broadband offices and she told them the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, funding expansion of broadband to the unserved or underserved, was the best run program she’s seen out there.