Original paper link Broadband
Broadband is the general term for a number of technologies that offer high
speed Internet access to
business and residential customers. With high speed Internet, users can browse the “web”; exchange e
mail that includes documents, photos, and vis uals; and participate in Internet communications like
Zoom conferences. Without high speed service, users are limited to brief text messages via e mail.
Currently, several private businesses, some of national reach. offer Broadband service to urban
custome rs. Unfortunately, those businesses have been reluctant to extend service to rural customers
because the up front cost to connect those customers could be large against an expected limited short
term return. Just with rural electrification in the 1930’s, g overnment assistance seems necessary for
sharing the costs in extending service.
The Minnesota legislature has passed limited funding for Broadband assistance, currently $70 million
from a state budget of $48 billion; Representative Ecklund was the Minneso ta House sponsor and
Senator Simonson a Senate sponsor. The Minnesota governor’s office has a task force on Broadband
development from that funding. The latter organization meets quarterly, sets state Broadband objectives
on service availability, and produ ces yearly reports on Broadband availability. As one might expect,
Broadband service in urban communities meets or exceeds objectives while rural communities and
spaces lag behind. Still, the task force report for 2018 shows that rural Minnesota would most ly meet
objectives by 2020 for basic high speed service. Of course, technology has moved on with yet higher
level service like optical fiber connection now offered in urban but not rural environments. The task
force’s newest objectives take these developme nt in mind by setting new rural objectives for 2025.
The federal government is also involved in Broadband development with two bills, Access to
Broadband Act and the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, moving through or passed by the US House.
The Senate, as one might expect, hasn’t acted. The House bills recognize that the US trails most
developed nations in rolling out high speed Broadband Internet service, that high speed Broadband is a
crucial component for economic competitiveness, and that the rural eco nomy will lag further behind
But with the national and state government budgets now deeply in debt from Covid
19, it’s unclear
how much financial support rural Broadband can get in 2021. The DFL Senior Caucus has been active
in lobbying the Min nesota legislature for Broadband support since the mid decade. We intend to
continue that lobbying; support through letters and testimonials from our rural members would be most
helpful in convincing legislators. And we hope to gain a seat at on the govern or’s task force (we will at
least follow up on its actions). Of course, just like at the federal level, we expect the Senate to be the
likely hard spot.
James Reed, Author