The EDA Center | at the University of Minnesota  
Commentaries on Greater Minnesota

Periodically we will present commentaries on topics of interest to community and economic developers across rural Minnesota. Below is a list of all commentaries with the most recent listed first.

 

Commentaries
Becoming a Broadband Leader
May 2010
Jack M. Geller, Ph.D.
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Recent articles and editorials in a variety of newspapers and blogs have expressed concern about Minnesota's standing and direction in its deployment of broadband technology. Specific concerns seem to fall into two categories; that Minnesota does not seem to be as competitive in its efforts to get its share of the $7.2 billion in stimulus funding dedicated to broadband development; and second, that the leadership and direction from our Governor in this regard is both confusing and unclear.

Regarding the Governor's action, I must admit to some confusion myself. For those who don't follow this closely, governors across the country were asked to provide their input on the many stimulus proposals submitted from their respective states; and our governor did just that. However, Governor Pawlenty chose not to publicly disclose his input to the federal government; which creates some confusion in helping us better understand his vision for the State of Minnesota in this regard. At the same time, while keeping his thoughts confidential is somewhat unusual, I really do not believe that it had a meaningful impact on the competitiveness of the collective proposals from Minnesota.

Regarding our standing as a state, I am not overly concerned that we are collectively lagging behind; or that we will not be receiving our fair share of the federal funding pie. First, it has been clear to me that relative to most other states, Minnesota as a whole has always been in pretty good shape. Sure we have rural areas that are both digitally unserved and underserved, but all states that have large rural tracts are in that position. In fact, the initial data and maps produced last year by Connect MN indicated that a large majority of Minnesota is well served, with reasonably good connection speeds. In other words, we have a good base to work from.

Looking forward, there's much to be excited about given the numerous broadband activities occurring all over Minnesota. First and foremost was the passage of a bill by the legislature establishing statewide goals and leadership for broadband development. Senate File 2254 was sent to the Governor for his signature in late April.

I am also encouraged by the broadband projects that have already been funded and the proposals that are currently being reviewed for funding. Some selected projects underway include:

  • A $6.3 million project being lead by the C.K. Blandin Foundation to increase awareness, provide training and increase broadband adoption among households and businesses all across rural Minnesota.
  • A $2.9 million initiative conducted by the University of Minnesota to establish public computer centers in multiple low-income neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. These centers will provide digital literacy training and access to immigrant and other low-income populations.
  • A $12.8 million project by the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group to expand the current fiber-to-the-premise network deployed in Windom to the communities of Jackson, Lakefield, Round Lake, Bingham Lake, Brewster, Wilder, Heron Lake and Okabena. When completed, this fiber project will provide state-of-art Internet connections to these rural communities that surpass the current capacity of many metro-area communities.
  • A $1.4 million project by the Minnesota Valley Improvement Corporation in Granite Falls to expand their wireless broadband network to unserved and underserved parts of South Central and West Central Minnesota.
  • A $43 million project by the Northeast Service Cooperative to create a 915-mile fiber backbone that will cover 8 counties in northeast Minnesota. Once in place, the fiber backbone will allow local broadband providers to have a quality access point from which they can serve their customers.
  • And finally, Qwest Communications recently announced their application for a $350 million grant to enhance broadband capacity in their 14-state region. If funded, approximately $54 million is set aside for Minnesota.

It is also important to remember that this is just the first round of these federal broadband grants and loans, which focused primarily on unserved areas. As we move into the second round, projects to enhanced underserved regions as well as more competitive areas will follow.

As stated in the recently passed Senate File 2254, Minnesota aspires to be one of the top five states in the nation in universal access, connection speeds and broadband adoption. Projects like these and the ones that will follow are precisely what we need to do to achieve that goal.

Geller is professor & head of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. He also serves as the director of the federally-funded EDA Center at UMC. He can be reached at gelle045@umn.edu

This document was prepared by the University of Minnesota, Crookston under award number 06-66-05709 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

 
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