Statewide broadband access improvement encouraged


Minnesota needs to upgrade its broadband speed and access to stay economically competitive.

That was the message from a task force to a joint hearing of the House Telecommunications Regulation and Infrastructure Division and Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee. (Watch)

Created by the Legislature in April 2008, the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force was directed to create and implement a statewide high-speed Internet access goal by 2015. Its report was released prior to the hearing.

We want to be in the top five states for overall speed and broadband access and top 15 percent globally for broadband penetration, said Rick King, task force chairman.

The goals include:
• high-speed broadband access to all Minnesotans by 2015; and
• constant minimum Internet speeds of 10-20 megabits per second for downloads, which would be 15 times faster than the current federal broadband definition, and 5-10 Mbps for uploads.

Currently, 94 percent of Minnesotans have broadband access. The remaining 6 percent represents about 100,000 households and 300,000 residents. However, an estimated 83 percent of Minnesota does not meet the proposed standards, and only Washington County, in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, has achieved the recommended download speed. No counties reach the recommended upload speed. Conversely, just 37 percent of Cook County residents in northeast Minnesota now have broadband access, and 11 Greater Minnesota counties have available download speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less.

“There’s no excuse to have two Minnesotas when it comes to technology,” said Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar). He would also like to see the state look at cell phone service, which he said can be spotty throughout the state, especially in rural areas.

The goals are based on new and emerging applications that will enhance the lives of Minnesotans, such as telecommuting improvements; medical monitoring of patients in their home via two-way video; and delivering educational opportunities to all state residents.

“This is the difference between reaching a global audience or being a local business,” said Eric Jolly, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota. He said the museum offers many virtual exhibits, but they are of no value for people who cannot technologically receive them.

In explaining that current situations do not allow all residents to remain competitive, King referenced a St. Francis woman who works as a national sales representative. She estimates that she could save up to two hours per day if she had access to broadband instead of using a dialup connection.

In tough economic times, who will pay for this?

Among its recommendations, the task force recommends the state “initiate a study to develop a wide-ranging collaborative funding strategy to support the recommendations” and “explore financial options such as tax incentives, including property and sales tax credits and exemptions to further incentivize private capital investment.”

Commerce Commissioner Glenn Wilson believes that businesses would be willing to help pay for upgrades to keep their businesses economically viable.