Congressman Tom Emmer outlines a public-private solution to better broadband…
Until a few years ago, the city of Annandale, Minnesota, located in the “Heart of the Lakes,” found itself among the last to receive access to reliable internet services. But over the last five years, significant investments from the region’s cable provider, with help from a bipartisan state grant broadband program designed to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, brought high-speed broadband infrastructure to the town.
As Congress works to accelerate broadband deployment in rural America, Annandale’s story, in the Sixth Congressional District that I represent, offers a useful roadmap for how we can solve problems in broadband policy and beyond. It’s a case study of private investment in infrastructure and jobs, teamed with targeted public spending to fill the gaps, producing real results.
The article talks about Midco’s investment in the area and the need for a push from public funding…
Now, Annandale’s experience offers a roadmap we can follow to connect more unserved rural communities across the United States.
It starts with encouraging more private investment in broadband networks.
While the country’s utility-regulated electricity and water sectors have faced chronic underinvestment for years, broadband has been a happier story. Nearly $2 trillion in private investment over the past 25 years, encouraged by a light regulatory touch, has built world-class networks that now reach 96% of Americans.
Midco’s 2016 initial entry into Annandale was funded entirely by private capital after local leaders partnered closely with the company to plan the expansion.
But it was clear that private investment alone would not solve the problem. Like in many rural areas, lower population densities meant it cost a lot more per-home to build broadband infrastructure. And where private capital isn’t enough to wire a given area, that’s where public funding can help fill the gap.
In Annandale, for example, a $537,000 state grant – matched by equivalent private funding – built the town’s 2018 broadband expansion project, bringing high-speed service to an additional 600 homes. Notably, Minnesota’s Broadband Grant Program encourages all broadband providers to apply, instead of putting a finger on the scale for specific companies or technologies; the result is more competition and more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.