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Group working toward Internet for all in state

The divide between the metro area and Greater Minnesota is clearly seen when looking at broadband availability.

Efforts are underway to expand and improve Minnesota's broadband speed throughout the state. The Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force, comprised of 23 members from across Minnesota, was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2008. The group, which has representatives from a variety of areas, has rural and urban members.

A report issued by the task force recently includes the following recommendations:

-High-speed broadband should reach all Minnesotans as soon as possible, but no later than 2015.

-High-speed broadband should achieve speeds of 10 to 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 5 to 10 Mbps for uploads as a baseline speed by 2015.

-State policies should encourage high-speed broadband development through tax incentives and public-private collaborations aimed at individuals, businesses and Internet providers.

We agree that these are appropriate goals for the state. Hubbard County and the lakes area in particular are behind when it comes to the availability of high-speed broadband. The need and the demand are here.

It is a quality of life issue. Some jobs today can be done from home if a person has high-speed Internet. Someone with one of these jobs might be interested in living up north on a lake but stay in an urban area because of the lack of broadband in outstate Minnesota.

This is unfortunate. Our area has a lot to offer in the way of a quality lifestyle. Having high-speed broadband available for everyone could draw more people to our area.

It is also an economic growth issue. Expanded broadband access has the potential to create or save between 1 million and 2.5 million jobs nationwide in the near future, according to the broadband report.

Currently, only Washington County has achieved the download and upload speeds recommended in the report. At the same time, broadband is only available to 37 percent of Cook County residents, according to the report.

In Greater Minnesota, 11 counties have available download speeds of 1.5 Mbps or less, far below the speeds needed to access contemporary online technologies.

To reach the goals recommended by the task force and have high-speed Internet available to everyone in Minnesota by 2015, work will need to start immediately. Goals without action won't help the situation.

We encourage the state Legislature to continue working to address the need for high-speed Internet across the state. With the budget as a top concern this year, we understand this issue might go to the backburner. But, if anything is to improve, action needs to start now.