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Pope County Broadband
Fri, Jan 6, 2017

By Tim Douglass

tdouglass@pctribune.com

 

Not everyone in Pope County has access to high-speed Internet and county officials are working to improve that access and to provide faster speeds in all areas of the county.

The first step in that effort to bring high-speed Internet to all of Pope County, is to find out what areas are lacking and what residents would like to see improved.  A Pope County Initiative group, headed by Information Technology Director Donna Martin, is currently working to improve internet access for everyone in the area.  And, to measure the currently level of interest in higher speed internet access, the team is conducting a survey, which is being mailed to every household in the county.  The survey is  designed to get opinions on current and needed internet access and seeks responses. 

Residents have two ways to complete the survey.  They can fill out and return the mailed survey, which should be arriving at residences this week.  Or, residents complete the survey online by going to www.surveygizmo.com/s3/3155201/New-Survey.  The survey only takes a few minutes to complete, but Martin said she would like to get a high percentage of county residents to complete the survey.  “That’s why we are mailing it to every residence and business in Pope County,” she said.

The results of the survey will help the county in its efforts to secure a grant that will help pay for a feasibility study and, it is hoped, will ultimately result in state or federal funding to increase access and internet speeds for the entire county.

The team, which also consists of Pope County Board Chair Paul Gerde and Pope County Commissioner Larry Lindor, has been meeting with internet providers who may be interested in expanding their coverage in the county through the state’s grant program.

 

State help may be available

Pope County is one of many counties in Greater Minnesota working to improve internet access and increased internet speeds.  At issue is future development and education access.  It is difficult to attract new residents and new businesses to an area that does not have high-speed internet.  In addition, technology is becoming more prevalent for K-12 education and some students are left behind because of where they live in the county. 

That’s why in 2014, the state legislature established the “Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.” And the legislature funded the program initially with $10 million in operating funds.

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband released its annual report on the subject just last week, which included recommendations for Gov. Mark Dayton, the Legislature and other policymakers to consider during the 2017 legislative session.

The recommendations outlined in the report are aimed at ensuring every Minnesotan has access to broadband and the ability to use it. The recommendations include $100 million in ongoing funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grand Development Program and $10 million in operating funds for the Office of Broadband Development, located within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

“Last year, we made strides with the largest investment in the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program to date, but we know there’s more work to be done to achieve our goal of broadband access for every Minnesotan,” said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. “Broadband plays a vital role in connecting people to health care, education and the global economy. The recommendations in our report will continue to move us closer to the border-to-border broadband access we need to succeed now and into the future.”

“Our goal is to make high-speed broadband accessible to every home, school, business and community in the state, particularly in Greater Minnesota,” said DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy. “This is an important tool that will not only improve the quality of life of all Minnesotans, but will be an investment in the future economic development of our state.”

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, created by the Legislature in 2014 and initially funded at $20 million, provides funding to build the state’s broadband infrastructure and promote broadband access in unserved and underserved areas of the state. The grants provide up to a dollar-for-dollar match on funds, not to exceed $5 million for any one project, and are distributed to qualified entities.

 

Minnesota’s universal broadband access and speed goals, updated in the 2016 legislative session, specify that all businesses and homes should have access to high-speed broadband services at a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits per second by 2022. These speeds are in alignment with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) definition of high-speed broadband.

 

By 2026, the recently adopted state speed goals provide that all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second. Ongoing funding to support the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program is critical to incent providers to build to these new and faster state speed goals, especially in the most rural areas of Minnesota.

 

The Task Force recommendation to allocate $10 million in operating funds to the Office of Broadband Development recognizes that specific and targeted policies and programs can effectively aid the adoption of broadband and assist in deployment.

 

Additional policy recommendations include:

 

1. Take action to promote and communicate “dig once” policies

 

2. Establish a legislative cybersecurity commission for the purpose of information sharing, monitoring workforce issues, and supporting and strengthening infrastructure

 

3. Continue to monitor advancing telecommunications technologies

 

4. Amend building codes to require that multi-tenant housing units funded with public dollars deploy cabling that supports easier management of broadband connectivity

 

5. Build computer donation partnerships between state agencies and community-based organizations that get computers into the hands of those who need them

 

6. Modify the state Telecommunications Assistance Program to better align with the national Lifeline program to subsidize the cost of broadband service for low income households

7. Support continued funding of Regional Library Telecommunications Aid (RLTA)

8. Fully fund Telecommunications Access Equity Aid

DEED is the state’s principal economic development agency, promoting business recruitment, expansion and retention, workforce development, international trade and community development. 

(320) 634-7700 - Pope County Courthouse - 130 E. Minnesota Avenue - Glenwood, MN 56334
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