A year in, and we shop online, work online, go to school online, and even play online. Our clear need — no longer just a nicety or luxury — for fast, reliable internet service, even in the far reaches of wooded, rural northern Minnesota, has grown out of necessity.
No wonder it’s a lobbying priority for the city of Duluth at the Minnesota Capitol this year. And no wonder there are proposals in both St. Paul and in Washington, D.C., to meet our growing broadband demand. Even after COVID-19, a public investment now in its infrastructure, much like the electrification of America a century ago, will be deemed a worthwhile necessity and will be embraced and appreciated as a new normal.
The pandemic has “put an exclamation point” on the need for all Minnesotans and all Americans — of all income levels and in all areas — to be able to be productively online, as Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in an interview last week with Forum News Service.
The Duluth News Tribune posts an editorial on the importance of rural broadband, now…
And never has true border-to-border broadband been as urgent or as in dire need as right now, in the midst of our unprecedented public health emergency, with hundreds of thousands of Minnesota employees and students suddenly home, learning and working remotely.
Those who can, that is. Politics too often put ahead of appropriate funding and public policy has left an estimated 14% to 17% of Minnesota households still without access to internet service or connection speeds fast enough for videoconferencing or other aspects of office and class work. The limitations have been frustratingly clear to far too many Minnesotans during this pandemic.
“Broadband is a necessary tool for residents in our region,” Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said in a News Tribune editorial — way back in 2017. Then, the Legislature had a $900 million total funding goal, and about 22% of homes in rural areas still lacked internet connections at even basic speeds.
They outline broadband’s various ups and downs in the MN legislature and end with an quick comparison…
This pandemic has forced all of us to focus on basics. And if it wasn’t clear before, it is now: Reliable internet is as basic as indoor plumbing and electricity were a century ago.
International Falls Journal posts an editorial in support of federal spending..
The fund will award high-cost support to distribute broadband service in rural areas. In a letter, the senators, including Minnesota’s Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, called on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to ensure that broadband networks built in rural areas using the money are able keep up with future demands for speed and capacity, and to hold support recipients accountable for providing adequate broadband service to consumers.
This need is not something new to Borderland. And we applaud the senators who told Pai their rural constituents need access to services that are on par with those in urban areas if rural communities are to survive and flourish.
The FCC plays a critical role in connecting rural communities to high-speed internet through the universal service fund. It would be a waste of money to provide funds for services that can’t keep up with consumer demand and the improved broadband in urban areas.
Clearly, it only makes sense that as the FCC moves forward to adopt new rules in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund proceeding, Pai promotes the building networks that will be sustainable even as new advancements are made and are capable of delivering the best level of broadband access for the available USF budget for many years to come.
With limited resources and great need, the importance of using the money most efficiently by building sustainable networks that meet the needs of consumers now and in the future becomes more clear.
The Grand Rapids Herald Review posts a letter to the editor in support of Tina Smith for Senate…
As soon as Senator Smith got to the Senate, she launched a statewide listening tour to hear from Minnesota farmers on what their priorities are for the Farm Bill. She took what she heard from those sessions and immediately got to work writing measures in the Senate Farm Bill that expands critical broadband infrastructure to more farms across Minnesota and supports new farmers.
In a letter to the editor to the Red Wing Republican Eagle, Senator Goggin said…
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the governor and his decision to veto these two bills that would have helped so many Minnesota families. …
Here are some other things the governor vetoed: …
Building on last year’s commitment to broadband access, we added $15 million more for the Border-to-Border Broadband program, so underserved and unserved communities could finally get access to critical high speed internet.
The Mankato Free Press reporter make commentary on (and gives a great brief history of) broadband at the legislature…
A few years ago, broadband funding was all the rage at the state Capitol.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration created the Office of Broadband Development in 2013 looking to fund more projects in Greater Minnesota. Local providers were ready to branch out. People expected lightning-fast internet access across the state.
Fast-forward a few years and much of the state has some kind of broadband access. Yet some communities remain using dial-up, even within south-central Minnesota, which is why local economic development experts are likely lauding Dayton’s $30 million broadband proposal.
The governor announced his plan Wednesday to help an estimated 11,000 households, businesses and organizations surf the web a little easier.
He notes what local legislators are saying…
Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, believes there likely will be a broadband bill this session, but it’ll set $20 million for grants instead of the governor’s $30 million proposal. Lawmakers passed a $35 million grant bill last year, during budget discussions.
Draheim is also interested in securing state funding for satellite and wireless internet access for rural areas that don’t yet have broadband access. He’d also like to see the state mandate reports on wireless speeds from Minnesota providers — he, like many people in our region, also gets frustrated over few internet provider choices, ongoing data speeds that are less than we pay for, and more than a few internet outages each year.
Still, every little bit helps for an industry where companies need grant funding to build those networks in rural areas. They need far more miles of data fiber, and thus far more thousands of dollars, to build networks connecting agricultural land and small towns.
The Citizen Tribune reports that Representative Sandy Layman is optimistic …
The 2018 Minnesota Legislature opens at noon Tuesday, Feb. 20, and Rep. Sandy Layman (R-Cohasset) is optimistic that work between now and session end on May 21 will be off to a good start building off what she believes were big wins last year.
And thinking about broadband…
Personally, Layman wants to put together a bipartisan coalition to leverage more broadband dollars.
“Legislative leaders are hopeful for a budget surplus, but we won’t know with certainty until the forecast comes out later this month. If there is a surplus, broadband expansion in Greater Minnesota is near the top of my list.”
Although the Legislature passed a large bonding bill last year, Layman says 2018 could also be a bonding year. A number of projects from Deer River to Cohasset to Grand Rapids are looking for bonding support.
“I anticipate a good deal of discussion about the size and scope of such a bill,” she added.
Layman expects to be spending most of her weekdays in St. Paul until adjournment in May. For constituents to stay informed of what the Legislature is working on, Layman suggests signing up for weekly session updates at http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/5b.
The Voice of Alexandria (KXRA) recently published an article on the rural take on the legislature…
Last year, the Republican-led Legislature, buoyed by GOP gains in rural areas in the 2016 election, passed some favorable legislation for Greater Minnesota, such as a bonding bill that will pay for public works projects and an increase in funding for the Local Government Aid program. This year, lawmakers will meet for just three months – Feb. 20 to May 21 – with a projected $188 million deficit (based on a November economic forecast) serving as a backdrop.
That hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for legislation that could help the rural economy – at least for organizations that represent rural interests.
They spoke to a few associations and organizations representing rural interests. Growth & Justice listed broadband as a priority…
Meanwhile, a think tank that’s been focused on issues related to the rural economy, Growth & Justice, hopes to build on a list of a dozen priorities it released during last year’s session. Besides a bonding package and child care needs, among other issues, the organization would like to see more broadband expansion and investment in a program that helps to equip workers with enhanced skills for technical jobs.
“We’ve got to be able to hold all of these issues up at the same time and understand how they all interrelate,” said Growth & Justice President Jane Leonard, who joined the organization in January.
And the article notes broadband as a topic to watch…
Broadband expansion: High-speed broadband has expanded into many remote regions, with 87 percent of Minnesotans now having access to high-speed internet, according to state estimates. But the work to connect everyone continues. Last year, the Legislature set aside $20 million for the Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which provides grants to providers for the infrastructure they need to expand their reach. This year, the Greater Minnesota Partnership would like to see at least $50 million for the Border to Border program, with at least half of the money made available to areas that lack access to 2026 state speed goals — 100 megabits down, 20 megabits up. The current federal standard is 25 megabits down, 3 megabits up.
The New Ulm Journal reports that First Congressional District candidate Vicki Jensen talked up the need for better broadband on a recent visit to New Ulm and surrounding area…
Jensen also spoke on the need for rural economic development, which includes infrastructure improvements like broadband.
“Broadband is the best economic tool we can have for our rural economy,” she said. “We did it with electric and we can do it with broadband. We just need the will to do it.”
Owatonna’s People’s Press recent ran an letter to the editor from Rep Daniels. (Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, is the state representative for District 24B, which includes Medford, Ellendale and much of rural Steele County.) He noted legislation related to broadband…
Technology is evolving every day and it is important that we, as a state, stay ahead of the curve. In order for Minnesota to remain competitive so employers to want to build, expand, and invest in our state, we need to ensure our technological infrastructure is strong. This session, legislation was passed limiting the amount a municipality can charge to “rent” space on public infrastructure for small-cell technology. Small-cell technology uses nodes that are attached to streetlights, utility poles, and other public structures in areas where there is high demand for cellular data. With more people using mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, for work and leisure, small-cell technology will help offset the capacity limits of cell towers. This technology has been expanding out of Minneapolis and St. Paul and into the suburbs, and hopefully, into Greater Minnesota as demand continues to increase. Currently, cellular communication companies are working to debut 5G technology, which is 100x faster than the current 4G service and will be compatible with this small-cell technology. This session, we also provided $20 million in grant funding to bring increased broadband internet access to residents throughout Greater Minnesota. Increased access to faster broadband and the introduction of small-cell technology will only mean good things for the future of Minnesota.
Mankato Free Press recently ran an editorial…
If broadband access is the fuel that can power rural and outstate economic development, Minnesota is in need of a fill up.
For the last two budget cycles, Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats have pushed to add from $60 million to $100 million to the state’s broadband grant program, and the Legislature has grudgingly provided $20 million. In the last round of funding, the funding requests were double the total amount of funding available.
Clearly, outstate Minnesota still needs broadband infrastructure. Some 22 percent of rural households in Minnesota, about 202,000, don’t have access to typical broadband, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
They highlight need in their area…
In the Mankato region, broadband coverage is worst in Martin and Sibley counties, with about 45 percent of households without broadband coverage. Some 30 to 40 percent of households in Watonwan and Waseca County have no access to typical broadband. Even in more populous Blue Earth and Nicollet counties about 20 to 25 percent of households are without broadband
I’ve heard rumors that Legislators are growing weary of the topic of broadband, looks like constituents aren’t…
The Republican Party campaigned in the last election how outstate Minnesota was left behind and the Twin Cities was somehow the recipient of the state’s largesse. But the GOP Legislature had a chance to put its funding where its campaign rhetoric was and came up short on broadband.
As the demand for the dollars shows, we need to do more. We urge the Legislature, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate, to up their commitment to outstate Minnesota and expand broadband program funding
Careful readers will remember Sammie Garrity as the bright young woman (grade 6!) who joined the Minnesota Broadband Coalition at the Rural Broadband Day on the Hill. She wrote about her experience speaking on the panel and meeting policymakers and shakers.
Sammie is continuing to run with the idea that all students need broadband, so I’m pleased to share her recent letter to the Cook County Herald…
Dear Cook County Herald,
We in Cook County are so lucky to live in a place that has broadband internet service! It makes all kinds of high-quality things happen, and we should all tell our legislators that. I wrote to Sen. Tom Bakk about it and you should too.
For me, as a student, having high-speed access to the internet is super important in doing the best I can on my school work. We just finished our Science Fair, and without access to broadband that allows me to look up facts, pictures and essays/reports written by scientists and doctors, my project would be a failure.
To me broadband is one of the most important things that we have access to. If not, we would not be able to look things up for homework or prepare for college. All of those things are not being granted to other people in our state and I want to make a difference in that. I would appreciate it if you made hundreds of people’s lives easier by getting in contact with our community and spread the word more than everyone has.
Kids in Cook County are also just starting a new digital newspaper at www.borealcorps.org. Without broadband, we couldn’t do that. With it, we can make sure our voices are heard in the community, and we can help connect friends and neighbors.
Thank you Cook County for helping all us students succeed! I hope the rest of the kids in Minnesota get the great broadband service we do!
Last week there was an interesting letter to the editor in the St Paul Pioneer Press…
Does anybody remember what life was like in rural Minnesota before the rural electric co-op came to the farm? Telephones? Why isn’t it obvious that the 21st century requires new development? It’s called broadband high-speed internet.
Modern life demands access, access by schools, hospitals and clinics, colleges, businesses and individuals. Private companies have been reluctant to lay the fiber-optic cable needed. So, where is the state?
Don’t you see the economic advantages we’d have if the state was wired? The jungles of Maui are wired for residents. Why aren’t the fields and meadows of Minnesota? Instead of trying to figure out a way to build a new mining industry in northern Minnesota, let’s embrace the future. Build a better internet and they will come. With their ideas, their visions and their investment dollars, they will come. The question is, will Minnesota receive them?
Carl Brookins, Roseville
I don’t know the author – but it’s great that even folk closer to the Twin Cities are promoting broadband access for the whole state.
Lori Sturdevant (Minneapolis Star Tribune) takes on rural broadband this week – starting with reasons to continue support to get rural areas better broadband.
My hunch: When Greater Minnesotans say they feel “left behind,” the complaint that’s top of mind is insufficient broadband. They may fume as they drive on bumpy two-lane highways and fret about aging water infrastructure. But they’ll leave — or their kids will — if the internet service is lousy.
And they’ll warm to politicians who credibly promise to make it better.
Why is it taking so long to get fiber to rural areas?
“At first, it was because the technology had to mature,” he [Mark Erickson of RS Fiber] said. “When fiber to the home became cost-efficient, in about 2005 and 2006, it began to work.” The notion that wireless technology will eventually be an affordable high-speed alternative for sparsely populated places is in question, Erickson added. “Wireless works well in high-density places, not in the country.”
But installing fiber cables to every farm and hamlet involves a major upfront investment that’s ill-suited to the business plans of large shareholder-owned telecom companies, Erickson said. The return on those investments is too low and slow. That’s why small local companies, cooperatives and municipal providers have outstripped companies like CenturyLink and Frontier in bringing broadband to rural places, where upfront costs can exceed $10,000 per premise.
How can they get there? With state support such as the Office of Broadband Development and Border to Border Grants. Sturdevant explains the ethos that makes it possible for both sides of the political fence to see that state support makes sense.
Erickson said something that might help those who are torn. He related that when selling would-be rural subscribers on establishing the RS Fiber co-op, he often says, “If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself.”
He isn’t referring only to individual effort. In Greater Minnesota, “do it yourself” has always meant “do it yourselves, with your neighbors.” It’s meant marketing cooperatives, rural electrification associations, municipal liquor stores, township roads, county parks. It’s meant pooling resources with one’s fellow citizens to solve a shared problem.
Think of state government as just another, bigger neighborhood pool.
Lt Governor Tina Smith was on KAXE this week. Broadband came up (at about minute 3) and the impact of reliable broadband in rural areas.
She mentioned the following (I paraphrase hugely)…
If you’re not connected with high speed affordable connection, you aren’t connected to the rest of the world. It’s not fair that 20 percent of rural Minnesota doesn’t have access.
We see bipartisan support for broadband investment. We recently awarded Border to Border grants to help get the last mile of broadband to households and schools that really need it.