Monday, April 13, 2015

Keep Rural Broadband a Bipartisan Priority

Throughout the current Minnesota legislative session, rural broadband development has presented itself as mostly a bipartisan issue. A Republican authored bill in the House (HF593), a Democrat authored bill (SF439) in the Senate and co-authors from both sides of the aisle.

Then, HF843 arrives as an omnibus economic development bill and the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) and Border to Border (B2B) grant program are removed from the original language of the bill. An article appeared on the StarTribune website on Thursday April 9th indicating that the funding had been removed, adding comments from Representative Pat Garofalo (R - Farmington).

I fired off a number of messages to my legislators, those representing the schools I work with, members of the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee, a few others and Representative Garofalo. My note to Rep. Garofalo is shown below. I encourage any of you with an interest in this issue to voice it now. I've received a fair amount of feedback from my messages including some that aim to calm me by saying, "...things in St. Paul aren't always pretty..." and, "Bills are commodities... we trade commodities." I understand all of that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it, and I know that if we stay silent, then no one believes it is important.

*** Below is an email message sent on Friday, April 10th, 2015 ***

Representative Garofalo:

With all due respect, I believe any decision to defund the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) and the Border to Border (B2B) grant program will set rural Minnesota back years and maybe even decades and is a detriment to residents and businesses who wish to locate in rural areas of the state, not to mention schools, healthcare facilities and so on. 

I am the Executive Director of a mostly rural cooperative of school districts. We provide technology services to our districts including wide area network support, network services, Internet access and many other instructional and professional development services. I have also been working for four years with the Kanabec Broadband Initiative and the East Central Regional Broadband Committee to bring broadband options to our rural residents. I have testified for Representative Kresha's bills, including that which would have funded the OBD and B2B program.

A Star-Tribune article indicated that you believe wireless options are cheaper. I beg to differ. We have wireless providers in our area including fixed wireless, cellular and satellite. In ALL cases the costs to consumers are significantly higher than wired (copper or fiber) services due to high equipment costs, data caps and generally high monthly fees. The service level is significantly slower than wired options - in most cases barely reaching the minimum definition of broadband at best and usually much slower - and the wireless solutions experience many more service interruptions than any wired option. I think these are easily documented facts and I challenge you to find a significant number of consumers or rural business who are satisfied with wireless services and think it is an affordable solution. Certainly, in our part of that state, they are not affordable options.

I would concede that SOME wireless solutions MAY be cheaper to deploy - at least initially, but I believe that may be offset by the fact that the equipment to drive wireless solutions has a much shorter lifespan than most equipment used in wired solutions. Additionally, the limited amount of spectrum available for wireless solutions makes it difficult to deploy in some areas of the state. It is nothing more than a "Band-Aid" fix.

I encourage you to re-examine this issue and avoid making it a political pawn. Broadband is as important to life and economic development today as electricity and water. Rural Minnesotans will be the losers if this issue dies in the session. If this issue dies, it will effectively kill years of work done by groups around the state to build capacity for public-private partnerships - the kind that the B2B program created.

Please feel free to contact me at any time to discuss. My contact information, including cell phone are below. Thank you for your time and service to the state.


Marc Johnson

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