Pew broadband report cites Minnesota effort

In looking at how states are approaching the challenge of broadband access to the Internet, a new report by the Pew Center on the States cites Minnesota as among a handful of leaders.

But it notes that the nation has a long way to go to fulfill the potential for health delivery, public safety, education and to prevent falling further behind other parts of the world.

You can find the report here.

I’ll sift through and add details shortly.

UPDATE at 10:30 a.m.:

The U.S. has slipped from best in the world in broadband access in 2000 to 15th last year, the Pew report notes. Although 95 percent of Americans can be said technically to have broadband access, that figure masks big geographic and economic disaparities. Only 65 percent of Americans actually have broadband at home. And then there’s the question of speed — quality and speed aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the world, the report concludes.

This means 100 million Americans lack broadband at home, and naturally this is a heavily rural phenomenon. Those 100 million are less educated, earn lower wages and are older than the population as a whole.

Minnesota gets kudos for the task force that last November set goals for the state and for the legislative action that put some of the its recommendations into law. The report praises Minnesota’s regulatory incentives for for-profit providers.

Here’s how the report describes Minnesota’s approach:

(It offers) providers more flexible “alternative” regulation arrangements in exchange for broadband deployment commitments. Also called incentive regulations, these arrangements typically allow regulated providers to earn larger profits or relax the hurdles providers must clear when proposing rate increases, provided they meet performance targets.

I’d love to hear from people who know how this is working out for communities.

Minnesota, California and North Carolina have approached broadband with statewide efforts that have helped when $7.2 billion in federal stimulus money became available, the report says.

But the state ranks 20th in terms of the percentage of connections that meet the fairly low bar of 768 kilobits per second of connection speed. And the report makes clear that states and even communities, not the federal government, are the keys to improvement.

The feds have made clear they expect states to work to make it easier for doctors, teachers and others to deliver service across state lines, for example, and to not get bound up in tax difficulties.

Utah this year became the first state to allow doctors to prescribe medicines to patients they examine online. But the report notes that doctor, pharmacy and the Internet connection company all have to be in Utah physically.

A lot of effort is going into mapping where exactly high-speed access is available and how fast it is. Look for a national map early next year, based on efforts the state is conducting. You can find Minnesota’s map here.

Among the challenges the report cites:

It is not as simple as running wire to a house. Officials and private-sector providers must juggle relationships and jurisdictional issues across federal, state, county and municipal agencies and departments.

Another challenge: the Federal Communications Commission estimates the cost of bringing access to those without is $23.5 billion.

If you’re looking for examples MInnesota can learn from, North Carolina is a state that also has a high proportion of rural residents and is praised by the report for some of its efforts, particularly those getting computers into nursing homes and helping train workers.

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