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Dayton pushes for more broadband expansion money

Minnesota's broadband situation is better than some other states, but 12 percent of Minnesotans, mostly in Greater Minnesota, have internet connection speeds slower than the state standard.

"We're not taking the elevator, we are taking the stairs on this one," General Manager Dave Wolf of Gardonville Telephone Co-op of the Alexandria area said March 28, standing alongside Gov. Mark Dayton and other broadband advocates.

"A rural broadband strategy that includes a partnership between the state and the service provider is solving the 'how' and it's creating examples of success that other states certainly will follow..." he added. "We are having an impact on our local community."

Dayton lobbied legislators to approve $30 million he has requested to help build out rural Minnesota broadband systems. The funds, like those in the past four years, would become grants to broadband providers.

Minnesota considers the slowest acceptable broadband internet service as 25 megabits per second download and three Mbps upload, which while much faster than dial-up is slower than many city internet speeds. Last year, about 52,000 homes did not meet that standard.

In 2011, 56 percent of Minnesota homes had access to high-speed internet, mostly in urban areas. Now, about 88 percent of Minnesotans can connect. However, just 73 percent of rural Minnesotans have that capability.

Dayton said the $30 million he wants would add faster service to 11,000 homes, businesses and community institutions around greater Minnesota. A governor's task force has recommended spending nearly $72 million every two years on broadband.

Danna MacKenzie of the State Broadband Office said people with slow internet are scattered around the state. She said 13 counties have less than 50 percent coverage. Yellow Medicine County has the fewest homes served.

It is more expensive to serve those with slow internet because they are in difficult areas for broadband construction, and often far from existing broadband lines.

While most internet service is via fiber or wire cable, MacKenzie said that some projects are a combination of wire and wireless.

Serving some people "could be very cost prohibitive," Wolf added.

Dayton, who has said his goal is 100 percent coverage, agreed on Wednesday that not everyone can be served.

But, he added, for most rural Minnesotans "you have to provide them access to the world."

Commissioner Shawntera Hardy of the Department of Employment and Economic Development said it is not just individuals who benefit from broadband. Communities with broadband have an advantage when recruiting and retaining businesses and workers.

State grants over the past four years have attracted $110 million in local government and private investment, state officials say.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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