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Minnesota’s rural residents deserve access to the benefits of broadband

The benefits of broadband technology are undeniable. More and more rural Americans are using broadband to connect with doctors, telecommute, run small businesses, and access educational resources.  However, about 6 percent of Minnesota’s homes have little or no access to broadband Internet. In May, state officials passed a law to help rectify this deficit and set a goal to give every resident access to a high-speed broadband connection by 2015. 

Including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $40 million in grants and loans announced earlier this month, to date, Minnesota has been awarded about $60 million in Recovery Act funds to help extend broadband services in the state.  While these funds will help provide broadband access to thousands of households, businesses and community facilities in 11 rural Minnesota counties, government cannot be expected to bear the full cost of rural broadband deployment.

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its National Broadband Plan earlier this year, the agency’s taskforce estimated that it could cost as much as $350 billion dollars to deploy universal broadband throughout the country.  Federal funds will alleviate part of the cost, but much of the investment will have to come from the private sector.  Currently, the FCC is considering changing broadband regulation, including applying additional rules governing how Internet service providers manage their networks.  These proposed changes could decrease incentives for private sector investment in broadband build-out, should the new regulations be too burdensome.

If the FCC chooses to dramatically alter broadband regulations without congressional input, it could result in a lengthy period of uncertainty as companies struggle to understand the economic and legal ramifications of the changes.  A recent New York Law School study estimated that the imposition of network neutrality rules could result in 502,000 lost jobs across the broadband ecosystem and approximately $62 billion in yearly economic losses over the next five years.

The spillover from the resulting economic and legal uncertainty could have negative consequences for Minnesota’s farming, rural and tribal communities because it is more costly to deploy broadband in rural areas. 

$30 billion in potential annual investment
Alternatively, the same study found that if the current regulatory framework is utilized, it could result in $30 billion annually in broadband investment and the creation or preservation of 509,000 jobs. Moreover, by connecting America’s rural residents with the rest of the country, it will lead to economic and environmental benefits for their communities and the entire nation during these trying economic times.

FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn will participate in a hearing in Minneapolis today to discuss the future of Internet affordability, access and openness.  We hope that, during this visit, Copps and Clyburn will consider the impact that stringent regulations could have on broadband access and adoption for businesses and families across Minnesota.

Instead of focusing on inflexible regulations that could suppress innovation, economic development and broadband deployment, our policymakers need to cooperatively work with the private sector to bring broadband to all the corners of the country because all Americans deserve access to broadband’s undeniable benefits and its life-changing opportunities.

Donna Champion is president of the Minnesota State Grange and Nicole Palya Wood is the legislative director for the National Grange.

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