Monday, February 2, 2015

Border to Border Broadband in Minnesota?

OK... it's been a year, so it's time to once again opine on the pages of the Interweb...

Today, Minnesota's Office of Broadband Development (part of DEED) released the long-awaited list of grant recipients for their $20 million Boarder to Boarder Broadband project. An impressive list of 17 projects scattered across the state of Minnesota. First, congratulations to those behind the funded projects. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas that will now receive high-speed broadband, welcome to the 21st century!! You'll love it! 

Next, am I disappointed that Kanabec County - and all of East Central Minnesota for that matter - was left out? Yes I am. Lots of people have been working hard for over four years to get better broadband options for our area. Another setback doesn't help, but we can learn from it and strive to present a better case next time. And I think we will. 

In the meantime, I've done a little math and present the following information... not to diminish the projects that were funded, but to illustrate just how big this problem still is in the state... and to hopefully help keep the momentum going into this legislative session as we look for continued funding of this program.

So, today's announcement helps the overall broadband conversation/discussion... as long as the legislature doesn't see this as "now we've fixed that problem." It looks to me that the projects chosen were some of the smaller $$ projects among the 40 applicants. They are nicely distributed across the state, and, yes, I know why that matters! There were a couple that were larger, but the average award is just over $1 million and most of the projects serve relatively small geographical and demographical numbers. There were 40 applications totaling $44 million in requests. I know there are lots of un and under served areas that didn't apply because the maximum $5 million amount wasn't enough to make a significant difference in their area, or because they didn't have the necessary partnerships or planning in place to make it happen. So... I hope the legislature doesn't look at this and say... "Well, looks like another $20 million should do the trick and we'll be done." That can't be further from the truth.

The latest broadband coverage information put out by the Office of Broadband (DEED) Found here: Indicates that 78.16% of Minnesota households are served by broadband that generally meets or exceeds the state goals. This is WIRED only as we know wireless has limitations and data caps that prevent it from being considered true "broadband" and limits it's affordability. Well, that leaves 21.84% of households un or under served. Minnesota has an estimated 2,107,232 households, which means there are 460,219 un or under served households in the state. The grants awarded today will serve 6,095 households which is just over 1% of the total un or under served households in the state. We've got a long ways to go! Also, if you look at that map referenced above and see the counties in red that have less than 50% of their households served... fewer than half of the funded projects are in those counties. Again, we have a long ways to go.

It's a start... and great news for the people in those communities. If you live in one of those areas, please thank your state representatives and senators. Then, if they happen to be in your area for a press conference or photo-op, or just to have a community forum, please remind them that there is still about 20% of the state's population that do not have the same opportunities. It would help us all if everyone would move that message forward.