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Minnesota Grangers: The Internet - Wired to whose advantage?

By Donna Champion and Nicole Payla Wood (Minnesota Star Tribune 8/18/10)

  AUGUST 27, 2010 --

The benefits of broadband technology are undeniable. However, about 6 percent of Minnesota's homes have little or no access to broadband Internet. In May, state officials passed a law setting a goal to give every resident access to a high-speed broadband connection by 2015.

Minnesota has been awarded about $60 million in federal Recovery Act funds to help extend broadband services in the state. While these funds will help provide broadband access to thousands of households, businesses and community facilities in 11 rural Minnesota counties, government can't be expected to bear the full cost of rural broadband deployment.

When the Federal Communications Commission released its National Broadband Plan earlier this year, the agency's task force estimated that it could cost as much as $350 billion to deploy universal broadband throughout the country. Much of the investment will have to come from the private sector. Currently, the FCC is considering changing broadband regulation, including applying additional rules governing how Internet service providers manage their networks. These proposed changes could decrease incentives for private-sector investment in broadband build-out, should the new regulations be too burdensome.

If the FCC chooses to dramatically alter broadband regulations without congressional input, it could result in a lengthy period of uncertainty as companies struggle to understand the economic and legal ramifications of the changes. That uncertainty could have negative consequences for Minnesota's farming, rural and tribal communities, because it is more costly to deploy broadband in rural areas.

Federal Communications Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn are visiting Minneapolis today to participate in a hearing to discuss the future of Internet affordability, access and openness. Hopefully, during this visit, Copps and Clyburn will consider the impact that stringent regulations could have on broadband access and adoption for businesses and families across Minnesota.

Our policymakers need to cooperatively work with the private sector to bring broadband to all the corners of the country.

Donna Champion is president of the Minnesota State Grange and Nicole Palya Wood is the legislative director for the National Grange.



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