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Broadband: Minnesota is still lagging

REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
Optical fiber cables

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

If broadband access is the fuel that can power rural and outstate economic development, Minnesota is in need of a fill up.

For the last two budget cycles, Gov. Mark Dayton and Democrats have pushed to add from $60 million to $100 million to the state’s broadband grant program, and the Legislature has grudgingly provided $20 million. In the last round of funding, the funding requests were double the total amount of funding available.

Clearly, outstate Minnesota still needs broadband infrastructure. Some 22 percent of rural households in Minnesota, about 202,000, don’t have access to typical broadband, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

This leads people like Casey Jelinski, an entrepreneur who used to live in Aitkin County, to move to De Pere, Wis., where the broadband was better. Her story was detailed in a Star Tribune report that noted she used to drive 60 miles to Duluth to get good broadband coverage.

Other such cases happen across Minnesota. Some 73 percent of the households lack typical broadband in Aitkin County, the worst coverage in the state.

In the Mankato region, broadband coverage is worst in Martin and Sibley counties, with about 45 percent of households without broadband coverage. Some 30 to 40 percent of households in Watonwan and Waseca County have no access to typical broadband. Even in more populous Blue Earth and Nicollet counties about 20 to 25 percent of households are without broadband.

Broadband internet has become critical business infrastructure like electricity was in the early days of the Republic. But bringing broadband to rural areas is costly. Hence the need for government subsidy for this investment that returns dividends in jobs and economic development.

Since 2014, Minnesota has invested $66 million in its broadband grant program. That has served some 25,949 households, 3,176 businesses and 244 community institution like schools, libraries and hospitals.

The Republican Party campaigned in the last election how outstate Minnesota was left behind and the Twin Cities was somehow the recipient of the state’s largesse. But the GOP Legislature had a chance to put its funding where its campaign rhetoric was and came up short on broadband.

As the demand for the dollars shows, we need to do more. We urge the Legislature, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate, to up their commitment to outstate Minnesota and expand broadband program funding.

Republished with permission.


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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/15/2017 - 12:04 pm.

    Universally available broadband in MN

    …is critically important to business development and community revitalization in rural areas.

    Where real estate values are beneficial and an available local work force will work hard, sometimes (I know of one instance, admittedly anecdotal) only the lack of workable broadband will lead a new business to locate elsewhere.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/15/2017 - 05:16 pm.

    What a Conundrum

    Hmm, this is a puzzler. Let’s look at the facts at hand:

    1) Rural MN residents voted in a GOP House

    2) Dems proposed increased spending for rural broad band, the GOP balked

    3) Rural MN renewed the GOP majority in the House, and gave then a new majority in the Senate

    4) The GOP majorities, put in power by rural MN voters, again was stingy on rural broad band

    What to do, what to do…

  3. Submitted by Mike martin on 07/16/2017 - 12:11 am.

    Cable verses Satilite

    MN insists on using buried cable instead of looking at a combination of satellite, cable on utility poles & buried cable. Ohio used a combination
    methods & got broadband to the entire state several years ago. Ohio did a state wide system so it got economies of scale MN does it piece which is much more expensive

    Even though power companies and telephone landlines are public utilities, they don’t want other companies using their poles for broadband

    Read this article

    & Lee Schafer article about bringing broadband to Lake County. With boondoggles like this its easy to see why the legislature is reluctant to fund rural broadband.

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/25/2017 - 12:44 pm.


    Minnesota would do well to invest in broadband for the entire state. If you want to make rural communities viable, you need infrastructure than can help businesses thrive and workers get to those businesses. A hundred years ago that was electrical service. Fifty years ago that was good paved roads. Today in the age of information it means broadband internet service so employees and companies can transfer files and update websites that give them a global reach.

    It’s time to stop being stingy and get the job done.

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