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Sen. Lyle Koenen: Broadband expansion key to improving life in Minnesota

It has become crystal clear, no matter if you live on the flat prairie fields of southwest Minnesota or in downtown Minneapolis that technology and our access to high-speed Internet improves all areas of life. Unfortunately, despite living in the 21st century, there are large portions of Minnesota where residents do not have access to broadband; or in rural farming areas like ours where there is a patchwork of Internet coverage.

In 2010, the Minnesota Legislature established broadband Internet speed and access goals. The goals are that “as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second.”

Last year around this time, the governor’s task force on broadband released its annual report, which noted that while Minnesota has made incremental improvements, it was not on track to achieve its goals by 2015. Collectively, Minnesotans need to work together to come up with a solution to our lack of uniform broadband coverage.

Over the past few months I have been able to participate in one of the Minnesota Senate’s series of conversations on broadband. In November I attended an event in Willmar at the MinnWest Technology Campus. These conversations and tours, which were led by Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing), continued in January with visits to rural communities like Chatfield, Duluth, Park Rapids and others.

What I and other senators have heard from these conversations is that the price of doing business now includes the cost of broadband. When broadband is simply not available, rural businesses are at a severe disadvantage; and businesses aren’t the only stakeholders. Doctors and patients, high school students and college students alike can all benefit from increased information when broadband is readily available.

What we hope to gain from these conversations is an answer to the massive patchwork of coverage across the state. We are not on track to reaching our goal of connecting the entire state by 2015. In order to achieve this we need to find commonsense solutions and work together so that all Minnesotans can compete on an even playing field in the 21st century.