Minnesota lawmakers, business owners and consumers are fed up with slow broadband. After a statewide gathering showed there is still much more to be done in order to speed up broadband availability, all three groups came together on a $100 million budget proposal to expand broadband statewide. Supporters of the effort are pushing for the item to be included in the next state budget.
Broadband access is available in larger cities and towns throughout Minnesota, but much of the local rural population is still out in the cold. CivSource previously reported on efforts around municipal broadband there, and other expansion build outs have yet to hit every corner of the state. The state also recently hired its first broadband director to keep momentum behind these projects.
The $100 million proposal would set up a grant program to help providers, rural coops or smaller communities install more fiber optic cable to extend high speed Internet connections into greater Minnesota. Supporters of the effort note that expansion projects have been thwarted by incumbent providers in the past, and new allowances must be made to help expand broadband access. The Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that 9 out of 10 customers of one local incumbent – Windstream Communications would gladly switch to a competitor because the service is lacking, but no competitors are available to switch to.
Windstream has taken the same line as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast noting that without population upgrades are too costly to maintain the high margin providers are used to. Those margins discount the real economic, educational, and modernization needs in rural areas that require reliable broadband.
Overall, Minnesota needs $3.2 billion to fully expand broadband statewide, supporters of the initiative say that the $100 million proposed would help the state meet part of the goal and target populations that need reliable access the most.