Mankato Free Press asks legislators to invest in rural broadband

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

Student cheers broadband in Cook County hopes the same for other MN kids

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 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!


Sammie Garrity

A MN suburban voice for rural broadband

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.

Rural Minnesota communities can get broadband if we all help do it ourselves

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 Smith supports broadband investment on KAXE

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.

High School senior in Aitkin’s winning essay on better rural broadband

The Minnesota Association of Townships had an essay contest. One of the winners wrote about broadband policy and the need to improve broadband in rural places. Logan Cluff’s winning easy was posted in the Aitkin Age. I’ll only excerpt a portion of it – but as you can see he has some clear ideas…

Fiber to the home would be the best option to get broadband out to people. This technology would be able to meet the needs of people now and be expendable to what future needs may require. However, the cost of this technology is extremely high. Building a fiber network is a big gamble for any communications company, because there is no guarantee that people will take the service. Also the distance between people’s homes can be anywhere from one to 10 miles. Adding a fixed wireless technology to the mix would be a great option to reach more people and give some internet options to those without.

All governments need to modernize their telecommunications policies. The federal governments, Connect America Fund (CAF) that is used to help fund telephone services offered by corporate telcos, should also be available to other providers of internet access. Broadband is replacing phone lines and this money could get access to many more users. At the state level, Minnesota is moving in the right direction with the development of the Office of Broadband and the Border to Border grants. These grants are helping communities expand services to underserved areas but the extreme rural areas of Minnesota are still being left behind. The grant process is not easy and can be costly for lower income counties and companies to find a way to start. To help alleviate those issues, there should be different levels of funding based on the economies and current availability in a predefined area. Economic development will depend on the local government’s involvement and bringing attention to where broadband is needed. Not all communities will need the fastest internet service available, but they need it to be reliable and affordable.

Logan is a senior at Aiktin High School. I think it’s telling that community members are so well informed on the topic – access to better broadband is clearly important to the community.

Park Rapids celebrates recent broadband grant – recognizes the need for more

Park Rapids Enterprise recently posted an article on broadband. They detailed the recent grant award in their area…

Paul Bunyan Communications last month was awarded a Border to Border Broadband Grant by the state of Minnesota to expand its fiber optic services to portions of southwest Hubbard County and a small portion of west central Becker County. The expansion area is located to the south and west of Park Rapids.

As a result, the company stated in a news release, the cooperative will begin expansion construction this spring that will pass a minimum of 359 locations in portions of Straight River Township in Hubbard County and portions of Osage Township and Green Valley Township in Becker County. The project, along with the cooperative’s project in central Itasca County which was also a part of the Border to Border Broadband Grant, is estimated to cost $3.9 million, with Paul Bunyan Communications contributing $2.16 million, $1.74 million from the State of Minnesota Border to Border Grant, and Itasca County contributing up to $75,000 towards the Itasca County portion of the project.

Paul Bunyan Communications expects to develop the specific expansion construction plans by early spring and will contact locations included in the project shortly thereafter. Construction will start in the early summer and will be completed by June 30, 2019.

And recognized that there’s still work to be done and that work needs to be funded…

Lawmakers last week announced a bill calling for another $100 million in spending for rural broadband projects statewide. Gov. Mark Dayton, in his state budget, released last week, proposed $60 million over two years for rural broadband.

While both proposals may prove a bit ambitious, the Legislature can continue to chip away this session at the worthwhile funding goal, following $20 million approved in 2014, $10 million in 2015, and $35 million allocated last year.