The Worthington Globe posts a letter from Darrick Moe, Minnesota Rural Electric Association…
Surprisingly, even a full year after the pandemic’s onset, 440,000 Minnesotans still do not have access to a wired broadband connection with 25 Mbps or faster speeds. Another 125,000 do not have any wired internet providers with services available at their place of residence, according to the organization BroadbandNow.
Just like water and electricity, broadband has quickly emerged as an essential service, and border-to-border broadband access is a state priority.
Historically, when large companies win state and federal grants to expand broadband access, they often cherry-pick a path serving larger population centers to enhance profits. This approach, while beneficial for investors, results in islands of unserved and underserved communities that become even more difficult and expensive to reach. Without a financial incentive to serve the smaller and more rural areas, they are bypassed time and time again for larger, more profitable service areas.
In the 1930s, a similar situation unfolded in rural Minnesota. For-profit utilities had the opportunity to bring electricity to rural communities, but many of those companies chose not to build power lines in the areas. Fast forward 90 years, and profitability is now preventing deployment of broadband in rural communities.
With a primary mission of serving the needs of the communities they serve, not-for-profit electric cooperatives came to the rescue for rural America by stringing power lines in smaller, less populated areas. Today, electric co-ops can be an asset in making broadband accessible to all Minnesotans.
He mentions one way the State could make it easier for electric cooperatives to serve broadband…
Currently, if an electric co-op wants to deploy broadband or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband, they must first get a newly signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.
To address this legal challenge, the Minnesota Rural Electric Association has worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current electric service easements to also deploy broadband, providing they give easement holders six months’ notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value.