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Broadband access needs addressed

Gary Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of Paul Bunyan Telephone in Bemidji, fielded questions last week at a broadband forum in Park Rapids. He explained the hurdles that need to be overcome before extended broadband service comes to all parts of Hubbard County. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

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 the area.

A community broadband forum was held in Park Rapids last week for those who wanted to offer input on the issue and have questions answered.

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

Nancy Vyskocil, president of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation has repeatedly said that broadband access is a quality of life issue and essential for everyone to have.

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 but wasn't received, which Johnson said was disappointing. Installing infrastructure in sparsely populated parts of Hubbard County isn't fiscally possible without some help, he said.

Several attendees talked about being in the dead zone between Park Rapids and Lake George and would like to see broadband access.

A wrap-up from the forum will be posted on the organization's website in the near future. For more information on the initiative go to www.impact2020.


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