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Task force looks at broadband access issues

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Enterprise
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Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Impact 20/20 is making a case for broadband access in northwest Minnesota.

The group has formed a task force to examine the state of broadband in the region and establish goals and strategies to address the challenges in developing widespread broadband access in area.

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In Hubbard County, 997 households are without access to broadband, according to U.S. Census data. The goal is to have affordable access available.

"It's a quality of life issue," said Nancy Vyskocil, president of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. "It's absolutely essential for health care, home businesses."

She said there are two main goals to increase access in Hubbard County and the northwest region of Minnesota.

The first is to have Federal Universal Service Fund (USF) expand to recognize the inclusion of broadband service within five years. The goals of the USF are to:

Promote the availability of quality service at just, reasonable and affordable rates.

Increase access to advanced telecommunications services throughout the nation.

Advance the availability of such services to all consumers, including those in low-income, rural, insular, and high-cost areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas.

Benchmarks include having the FCC Broadband Policy reflect USF support for broadband within 18 months, including high-cost provider support and end-user support.

Also, the group would like to within two years have congressional delegations of North Dakota and Minnesota publicly agree to support pertinent legislation.

The group would like legislation to be introduced and passed in Congress that supports the expansion of USF by 2013.

The second goal is for all communities in the region of 500 residents or more to have business-grade broadband access of speeds greater than 20/10 within five years and all residents of the region will have access to broadband speeds of 10/5 within the same time period.

20/10 means 20 Mbps download speed and 10 Mbps upload speed.

Benchmarks include ensuring 50 percent of communities greater than 500 having 20/10 access within three years and 75 percent of communities greater than 500 having 20/10 access within four years.

Part of the delay in having broadband infrastructure throughout Hubbard County is the cost. It currently isn't fiscally feasible for a company to invest in installing broadband infrastructure in a low populated area.

Gary Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of Paul Bunyan Telephone in Bemidji, said he is interested in having a dialogue and working toward complete access in Hubbard County and the region.

Paul Bunyan Telephone has expanded service south of Bemidji toward Lake George and northern Hubbard County. There is a gap in broadband service between there and Park Rapids, however.

A broadband stimulus grant was applied for and if it was awarded Johnson said the company would be interested in working to develop a broadband infrastructure plan for the area.

Impact 20/20 is interested in starting a dialogue with the community and has scheduled forums in the area.

A community broadband forum is scheduled in Park Rapids from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28 at North Point Lodge. To sign up, and for more information, go to www.impact2020.org.

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Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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