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Ramping up speed
"The U.S. really falls short in delivering truly high-speed broadband. Our speeds are a fraction of what many other industrialized nations of the world are able to obtain," said Tom Garrison, communications director for the city of Eagan. He said this is in part because the country does not have a formal technology goal, unlike some other nations.
He and others representing technologically diverse interests testified March 23 before the House Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division in favor of HF2107, which would ensure that by 2015 all Minnesotans have Internet access at speeds equal to at least 1 billion bits per second.
That is 1,000 times faster than wireless, more than 330 times faster than the available DSL speeds in Minnesota, and 125 times faster than cable modem service, said Rep. Sandra Masin (DFL-Eagan), the bill's sponsor. The bill would also establish a state Broadband Advisory Board and give access to all Minnesotans.
The board would consist of a governor-appointed broadband policy director along with 15 members including representatives of providers, consumers, local governments and individuals knowledgeable in telecommunications. It would make recommendations to the Legislature for achieving the 2015 access goal and ways the public and private sector can work in cooperation to achieve the goal.
The impetus for the bill came from a "Gig" group with some representatives from the Eagan Technology Working Group, which consists of businesses, residents, city leaders and technology experts, Masin said.
Garrison said about a dozen other states have some sort of broadband plan, and group members wanted to form one of their own. In the process they realized the statewide scope and importance of having an overall goal.
One can disagree about what's the proper speed or time limit, but Minnesota doesn't have a current plan and needs to set a policy goal of where it wants to be, he said.
The bill doesn't address the necessary funding to support such a goal, but is an attempt to bring people together to develop a policy that would allow the state to better compete with other states and countries, thereby allowing businesses to stay competitive globally, Garrison added. As an example, California has set a goal of achieving gigabit speeds (1 billion bits per second) by 2010, the same as Singapore, Garrison said.
Those testifying in favor of the bill say internationally recognized groups show the United States is falling behind as other countries increase their Internet access speeds allowing for bigger applications. A 2005 study by the International Telecommunications Union ranks the United States 16th in broadband penetration for economies, down three places from 2004.
A real life scenario showing the need could entail an at-home engineer trying to download or upload architectural specs from their Japan-based corporation. Depending on the size of the engineer's file, using a DSL line could take days or hours by cable modem. Current access speeds across the state have a form of broadband, but the access speeds are less than other countries. With the speed of broadband proposed in the bill, it could be as little as one minute to download those specs.
The Internet creation that initially enabled people to cross geographic boundaries is competitively disabling with the need for more bandwidth and faster processing speeds. Big corporations have capital to install fiber optics, Wi-Fi or other technology needed to offer faster broadband capabilities, but small and home-based businesses across the country don't have the funding to compete. Instead, they're limited to what local telecommunications companies offer.
Not able to wait for the state to address broadband concerns, several municipalities have given faster access speeds to residents by creating their own telecommunications providers.
In November 2000, 67 percent of Windom voters gave city leaders the authority to construct, purchase or acquire a telephone exchange. Now the city manages its own telecommunications system, including door-to-door fiber optics.
At the time, there were no plans from Qwest Communications International Inc., the service carrier for the area, or any other company to provide high-speed Internet or a digital subscriber line, said Mayor Tom Riordan. Fed up with not having a choice, the residents developed a solution, he told the House Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division Jan. 26.
Similarly, Monticello established a Fiber Optics Task Force in 2005 to examine the possibilities of using city monies to build a fiber optics infrastructure for use by every home and business in the city. The city approached current area providers with fiber availability to every home in the area, and Monticello was told it was "not their vision," said Lynn Fleming, a member of the task force.
Monticello is now in the process of developing its own fiber optics infrastructure to allow for higher applications, she said. Presentations from the cities of Buffalo and Winona showed similar stories.
The bill was laid over by the division so various sectors can discuss ways to bring those goals to fruition, with the intention it will be further discussed next session. "At least we got the topic out with some type of goal and standards to start this," Masin said.
A companion bill, SF1918, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth), awaits action by the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee.
©2007 Session Weekly