If you’re looking for yet another disparity between the metros and outstate, look no farther than broadband Internet connections. And the push now is for the Minnesota Senate to help erase that disparity considered crucial for economic growth. So far, it has remained silent.
That’s not hyperbole. The Greater Minnesota Partnership surveyed economic development officials, non-profits, chambers of commerce, business people and lawmakers to learn how legislators and local government leaders rank the highest needs for job growth.
Broadband was the number one issue beating out job skills, infrastructure, transportation or tax issues.
The Legislature set goals to expand and improve broadband and the results to date are discouraging. In the metro area, 93 percent of household meet the goals. In outstate, only 56 percent are there, according to the Coalition of Greater MN Cities.
Even in the outstate the disparities are significant. For instance, 96 percent of the households in Waseca County meet the state’s goal speed. However, in Blue Earth County, only 19 percent meet the goals.
We’re not talking about getting higher speeds for YouTube or Facebook, proponents argue.
Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater MN Partnership, said during a news conference last week, “We heard from businesses in all parts of the state about the need for better Internet service.”
According the GMNP, Minnesota ranks only 23rd in the nation in terms of broadband service.
Even the Governor’s Broadband Task Force says the state is not on track to meet the goals by 2015 set by the Legislature.
The Coalition was seeking $100 million for broadband expansion and upgrades. Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he supports funding but is keeping the amount close to his vest.
“I have stressed that we need to start modestly, and prove the effectiveness of [these investments]. The goal of having border-to-border cell phone and high-speed Internet coverage is something I said during the campaign. I have believed all along it is important to do.”