1st state broadband status report: Mixed at best

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The people charged with tracking whether Minnesota is keeping up with broadband access to the Internet have produced their first tally, and you have to conclude the picture is mixed at best.

On the one hand, 84 percent of Minnesota households have available to them Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second or more. (This doesn’t mean necessarily that you have it; it means you have access to it if you want to pay more than the typical broadband subscription costs.) At any rate, that’s fast enough to handle your Netflix video streaming needs, your file-sharing needs, much of your telecommuting needs.

Ten megabits per second is not considered fast enough for telecommuting with video conferencing, sophisticated telemedicine applications, some of the complex gaming applications. It’s also not close to the national goal of having 100 million households achieve 100 megabits per second by 2020.

But the Legislature in 2010 put into law a Minnesota goal that all households should have available at least 10 megabits of download speed by 2015, and 84 percent of the way seems respectable.

The law also says, however, that the state should be in the top five for average connection speed and broadband availability. We’re not close, ranking 24th on the first scale and around 30th on the second. Compact Delaware, Rhode Island and New Hampshire lead the nation, but big states like Nevada and California are ahead of Minnesota, and so is the national average connection speed.

The Broadband Advisory Task Force is a 15-member body appointed by Commerce Commissioner Glenn Wilson last summer after that law committed the state to those long-range goals. Here’s the report (pdf) the task force just issued.

It should have quite a bit more to say a year from now after several hundred million dollars in federal stimulus money work through several dozen projects around the state. (You can find those described nicely in the report.) It also aims to track developments in health care applications, local government use of the Internet and progress in increasing Minnesotans’ digital literacy.

If there’s an Achilles heel the report identifies already it might be in the schools. The task force notes that the Department of Education doesn’t provide guidance for schools when it comes to broadband access and that funding has been inconsistent and declining, from both the state and federal governments.

Some school Internet leaders have expressed concerns in the past about their ability to deal with bandwidth demands during statewide achievement testing as the Department of Education increases the amount of testing it does online.

The task force report also points to the importance of Internet access in public libraries and the need for longer hours and more computers. Library access becomes more important as job applications, unemployment applications, tax filing and more crucial services move online.

The state has 4,478 computers available to the public in its regional libraries. That’s one for every 1,180 state residents.

  • One computer for every 1,180 state residents is dire – and then you add in that the libraries are opened limited hours and it’s even worse.

    Education is one area that folks on both sides of the legislative aisle seem to highlight – and getting attention is going to be tough this year.

    Hopefully focusing on broadband as a solution to education issues will help promote the need for ubiquitous broadband.

  • I have serious questions about the 84% figure. Perhaps 84% of Minnesotans get advertisements claiming they could get those speeds, but when they connect they’ll find the speeds are exaggerated and real speeds are slower.

  • Let’s hope that Google chooses Duluth for its community fiber project!