International Falls Journal: Task force: Ensure broadband access
The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband last week released its 2016 annual report, which includes recommendations for Gov. Mark Dayton, the Legislature, and other policymakers to consider in the 2016 legislative session.
The recommendations are aimed at ensuring all Minnesotans have access to broadband, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
They include $200 million in funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grand Development Program and an update to the state’s speed goals.
“Expanding broadband allows all businesses to compete in today’s global economy no matter where they are located in Minnesota, expands educational opportunities, and helps people stay in touch with health care providers to receive care and monitor their health conditions,” said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. “These recommendations will move our state closer to our goal.”
The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, created by the Legislature in 2014 and initially funded at $20 million, provides funding to build broadband infrastructure and promote broadband access in unserved and underserved areas of the state.
The grants provide up to a dollar-for-dollar match on funds, not to exceed $5 million for any one project, and are distributed to qualified entities, according to DEED.
Minnesota’s universal broadband access and speed goals, originally established in 2010, specified that all residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second by 2015.
As of February 2015, more than 91 percent of Minnesota households had broadband access available at a speed of at least 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload, while more than 80 percent had a broadband connection that meets those speeds.
The task force’s new proposal would update the speed goals to specify that all businesses and homes should have access to high-speed broadband services at a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second by 2022.
The speeds align with the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of high-speed broadband.
The report recommends that all businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second by 2026.
Other policy recommendations: increasing telecommunications aid for schools and libraries; expanding existing sales tax exemptions for telecommunications equipment; reforming Minnesota’s telecommunications industry reform regulations; reviewing existing permitting criteria to find opportunities for efficiency; and creating an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said she and Dayton have proposed another $100 million in state investment for broadband expansion.
“Broadband Internet isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we want Minnesota’s economy to work for everyone,” she said. “This is about our global competitiveness and our capacity to provide a world-class education to our students.
“We need the bandwidth for Minnesota’s regional centers and rural economies to support innovation and entrepeneurship,” Smith said. “If we don’t do this, 244,000 Minnesotans and hundreds of communities will lack the infrastructure to connect to the 21st century economy, and that’s not fair.”
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan last week joined a bipartisan delegation to establish the Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus.
The caucus will facilitate discussion, educate members of Congress and staff, and “develop policy solutions to the digital divide that exists in rural America,” according to Nolan’s office.
“Rural America has waited long enough for high-speed broadband,” Nolan said. “It’s a necessity required to start new businesses, create new jobs, help our small town rural economy grow, and modernize the education and health care services so essential to quality of life. So hats off to everyone who helped make this important caucus a reality.”
Nolan recently introduced the Rural Broadband Initiative Act to consolidate hundreds of millions of dollars in rural broadband programs under a single federal office and develop a national strategy to connect the countryside.
He also joined Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., to introduce the Rural Broadband Infrastructure Act, which would make an additional $670 million in federal financing, plus additional loans and grants, available nationwide.