State should put $100 million into broadband fund, says task force

Minnesota should put $100 million of its surplus into a fund to help pay for broadband infrastructure in parts of the state that now are poorly served, a state task force studying the issue is recommending.

The fund, envisioned as a matching-grant program to help public and private broadband providers, could deliver service to more than 100,000 households that are currently unserved or underserved, according to a report prepared by Gov. Mark Dayton’s task force on broadband.

The recommendation is something of a departure from much prior discussion about high-speed Internet access in that it calls for spending state money to build infrastructure.

The Legislature in 2010 passed a law calling for every household in Minnesota to have good broadband access by 2015. To this point, legislators have followed up by creating the Office of Broadband Development in the Department of Employment and Economic Development. But they have not agreed to spend money on actual construction of fiber lines or other projects.

About three-quarters of Minnesota households have access to the Internet at speeds the state considers adequate. (Source: Connect Minnesota.)

About three-quarters of Minnesota households have access to Internet speeds that the state considers adequate (10 megabits per second download and five megabits per second upload.)

The task force, headed by former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, estimates that it would take between $900 million and $3.2 billion to get a wired broadband connection to everyone. The task force recommends a one-time appropriation to launch the fund and suggests that private and public partners match the money dollar for dollar. That would result in “well over 100,000 households receiving broadband service at the state speed goals.” The task force is suggesting that the fund be overseen by the new broadband office created last year.

“The broadband access and adoption gap is significant in Minnesota,” the report says, particularly in rural areas. For example, it says that while students have decent Internet access at school, in many areas they are unable to work online at home. The report also says that even in the Twin Cities there is an issue, not of availability but of many people being unable to afford service or not understanding its benefits.

The task force also recommends that the state:

  • Restore a sales tax exemption on some telecommunications equipment that was removed last year.
  • Pay to continue Internet mapping efforts in the state at a cost of $1.66 million over two years.
  • Create a fund to encourage Internet use and adoption. No dollar amount was included in the report.
  • JQP

    State of MN should build and maintain a statewide broadband system … and charge the service providers an access fee.

    The private sector build out is needlessly duplicitous in high density customer areas (Cable-Provider : wired vs.Telecom provider: wired and fiber) and completely lacking in other areas or expensive for low quality service ( Satellite Data vs. Telephonic DATA service ).

    The companies won’t agree to a common model for “anything” … and thus service, quality, reliability varies widely and erratically during the day.

    to bring agnostic neutrality, consistency and “sunshine” to the system … the government should build and maintain the system at a fee to service providers .

    Small business providers would relish the idea being able to stay put and get good service … and REAL competition among providers to service their account – instead of mixing infrastructure with service costs and dinging the customer at every step.

    • Christopher Mitchell

      I think the State would do better to help local entities – towns, counties, and partnerships of them and coops – to build these kinds of networks. The more local they are, the better the service and more likely it will not just be neglected as profits are harvested as the big corporations do.

      • JQP

        its a really nice thought if you are talking about something that is completely tangible and whose properties are immediately recognizable … but IT systems in a very dynamic environment don’t fit that bill.
        Small communities are lucky to get an individual , let a lone a team to resolve discrete short term complex issues. Communications systems are not short term… they are complex and continuous.

        Local = Better is nice sentiment… but its a complete fallacy when it comes to telecom in a changing environment. Just ask all the rural communications customers whose choices are a patchwork of guessing, hope and money-money-money for slow, erratic service and irregular support or tech assistance.

        What a customer want “local” is the someone who has to do a site visit. other than that … they want to know that the system they have is as good as the next town down…. and their town wants to know that too… because better service might suck business away.

        • Christopher Mitchell

          Ask any rural telephone coop member whether they want to trace places with a Frontier or CenturyLink customer. Ask local businesses in WIndom or in the many cities in Iowa with muni networks who better meets their needs – the local company or the big firms.