Even a few miles into the rural areas surrounding Mankato, the Internet can be slow as a tortoise. And there are many other areas in greater Minnesota in this race to the bottom.
So an effort to bolster broadband Internet in Minnesota begun years ago was worthwhile and likely to pay dividends. But we’re stuck spinning our wheels and our browsers.
State leaders either through necessary legislation or administrative action need to consider strategies of years ago when electricity was brought to rural areas or good roads were established to get farm products to market.
The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband recommended the creation of a $100 million fund that would provide competitive grants to public/private partnerships for increasing broadband access and Internet speed to underserved areas. In fact, a bipartisan Legislature in early 2010 set in state law the Internet speed goals of 10 to 20 mbps for downloads and 5 to 10 mbps for uploads.
While the number of households with access to those speeds grew by 18 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to the task force, there were still half the households in greater Minnesota that lack such access at an affordable rate.
While Gov. Mark Dayton campaigned on expanding broadband access border to border in Minnesota in 2010, he did not propose the $100 million fund in his budget.
With today’s technologies, a high speed and affordable Internet connection is essential to almost every business.
There may be models of the past that will work to expand broadband networks. The state may be able to put more emphasis on broadband through already existing state loan programs. It may be able to expand tax credits like Angel Investor tax credits to have special incentives for broadband projects.
There will be a return to the state through taxes and job growth. A Blandin Foundation-sponsored study showed a $10 to $1 return to business for broadband investments in greater Minnesota.
Broadband affordable Internet is to business and the economy today like roads and electricity were decades ago. They’re essential.