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.
Minnesota is Falling Behind on Broadband
In 2008 former Governor Tim Pawlenty created the first Governor's Broadband Task Force to assess the status of broadband deployment, adoption and utilization in Minnesota and set goals for future access and connection speeds. Understanding that broadband technology was going to be a key driver in business recruitment and retention, retail and commerce, distance education, tele-medicine and the delivery of efficient public services, the 2010 Minnesota State Legislature took those task force goals and enacted legislation setting them into statute. As stated in statute, "as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state 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 5 to 10 megabits per second." Further, the statute goes on to state "... that by 2015 and thereafter, Minnesota be in the top five states of the United States for broadband speed universally accessible to residents and businesses; the top five states for broadband access; and the top 15 when compared to countries globally for broadband penetration." (Minnesota Statutes; Chapter 237.012).
Since those goals were first established there have been two subsequent broadband task forces with the latest iteration established in 2011 by Governor Dayton. That task force released its 2012 annual report and broadband plan in December, with a number of recommendations to help improve access to broadband; and for some, improve its affordability. However as a member of the original broadband task force, the real message sent to the Governor in this report is that Minnesota is continuing to fall further behind in both access and speed. Citing Task Force chair Margaret Anderson Kelleher, "While the Task Force is encouraged to report that progress is being made toward the state's broadband goal, we are not on track to meet them by 2015."
With all deference to Chairperson Kelleher in her letter to the Governor, she is being too polite and kind with her words. The reality is that Minnesota is falling further behind as it relates to broadband access and speed with each passing year. As noted in the report only 61.6 percent of Minnesota households have access to the state-mandated speeds (a minimum of 10 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up), which leaves over 800,000 Minnesota households behind; and not surprisingly, most of those left behind are in rural Minnesota. As documented in a detailed chart, the report goes on to show that while 98 percent of households in Hennepin County and 99 percent in Ramsey county meet the state-mandated connection speeds, not a single household in Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Cook, Mahnomen, Aitkin, Kanebec, Mille Lacs or Wadena counties reach this state-mandated threshold.
Information from outside sources paint an even more troubling picture. According to the Akamai 2012 "State of the Internet" report, when compared with other states on average connection speeds, Minnesota has now fallen to 25th in its state ranking and is threatened with being in the lower half of all states. Further, as it relates to broadband access, according to data from the National Broadband Map (a joint project of the National Telecommunications Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission), Minnesota has actually slipped to 38th in ranking; down from 28th a year earlier.
It's important to recognize that in spite of this troubling news Minnesotans continue to embrace the Internet and broadband technology. Today, three out of every four Minnesota households report purchasing a home broadband connection. Additionally, if we were to include the adoption of mobile Internet technology through smart phones and tablets, it would likely be closer to four out of every five. So understand that consumers are doing their part. In fact today the largest group of Minnesotans who choose not to embrace the Internet are elderly Minnesotans, defined as those 65 years of age or older. But even that cohort is witnessing sizeable gains in their adoption of Internet and broadband technology. And remember... every day another 64-year old with digital skills has a birthday and joins this cohort, increasing the adoption rate as a result. So let's not blame the consumer.
Rather, if there is blame to be assigned, I would have to point to our legislature. Simply passing statutes that set broadband goals is no more effective than passing a U.N. resolution! It may make you feel good, but it is of little consequence. Like other states that were once behind Minnesota in the rankings but now are ahead of us, we need policymakers who are willing to set strategies in addition to goals; and equally important, to appropriate funds to help implement such strategies. The Governor's Broadband Task Force did their job in helping the Governor and the Legislature understand that we are at a critical juncture in our state's broadband trajectory. Further, the Task Force outlines a series of recommendations to establish public/private partnerships that could help meet the goal of ubiquitous broadband across Minnesota. Now we will have to wait and see what the legislature chooses to do with it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org