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CHAPTER III - State Strategies to Promote Broadband

In the second plenary session for the conference, Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, offered a state perspective on strategies to promote access to broadband. Key steps include setting a state goal for broadband access—higher than the federal standard—and creating an Office of Broadband Deployment, functionally located within the state’s economic development agency.

Among other functions, the Minnesota Broadband Office is charged with mapping the availability of broadband in the state and administering Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program. This activity provides financial assistance to service providers in order to expand into areas of the state that do not have wireline broad- band meeting the state’s minimum standards. The state is thus supplementing the actions of the federal government to achieve its universal access policy objectives.

In 2010, at a time when the FCC viewed 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream (4/1) as “broadband,” the Minnesota state legislature codified a goal of everyone in the state having access to 10 Mbps downstream/ 5 Mbps upstream service by 2015. Subsequently, in 2016, the Minnesota legislature updated the state-level goal to be universal access to 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream (25/3) broadband service by 2022, and added a “future-oriented” goal of access to 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband service by 2026.

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program helps reach for that goal and is funded out of annual appropriations. The state will match up to 50 percent of the capital costs to build infrastructure into unserved areas. Over four years, the program has invested $85 million, which has leveraged $110 million in private and local match. The program is technology-agnostic in the sense that any technology that can meet the state’s scalability requirements is eligible for funding. To date, the bulk of the state’s investment has been in wireline infrastructure, but the program also has invested in innovative models involving fixed wireless and wireless hybrid solutions. MacKenzie observed that Minnesota cannot afford to wait to see if 5G will come to rural areas; the opportunity cost for waiting to see if that becomes a viable solution is simply too great.

The Minnesota Office of Broadband Deployment actively works with the 117 broadband service providers in the state to learn where they are investing, where their challenges are, and how the state can help remove barriers. In some sense, the Office serves as a troubleshooter, working with other state agencies and listening to the needs of local townships and citizens for service. As MacKenzie put it, “Townships see themselves as the elected officials closest to the problem, who know the people impacted by the gaps better than anyone else.”

 
 
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