Stirring the Pot: Deciphering Broadband Fact from Fiction

As originally posted in Blandin Foundation eNews...

Years ago, after an evening of minor teen misbehavior, I was advised by an older, wiser college student – “Deny everything!”  That strategy did not work out so well in the face of overwhelming evidence gathered by my parents.  Today, however, that strategy seems to have taken over by more skilled storytellers than me. Sometimes, it even seems to apply to our Minnesota broadband policy discussions.

Broadband is a complicated subject pairing dynamic technology with unsettled multi-level government policy.  I have learned much by listening to techies and wonks dispute present and future tech capabilities and government policies. No doubt, smart people can disagree on any and all facets of this discussion, but there are some things, driven by physics and business finance 101, that should be accepted as facts.

In spite of the complexity underlying these discussions, residents attend community broadband meetings knowing that they and their neighbors need better broadband.  They know it because they experience service shortfalls every day.  They know that they are paying far more for far less, or have no service at all.  Via the state broadband maps and reports, they learn that 70 percent of Minnesotans already have broadband that meets the 2026 state goal and that a growing number of rural Minnesotans are served by fiber to the home networks.

It is disappointing to me when demonstrably incorrect “facts” gain a life of their own, especially when policy makers repeat them to groups of citizens.  In the past 24 hours, I have heard the following statements expressed either directly or via second-hand accounts at community meetings:

  • CAF2 will solve the rural broadband problem so the state does not need to be involved.
  • Telephone companies cannot cross their existing exchange boundaries to compete.
  • If telephone companies invest in new infrastructure, they have to share it with competitors.
  • All CAF2 improvements must immediately meet the 25/3 FCC broadband standard.
  • Incumbent telephone companies are committed to further upgrade CAF2 networks in the near future.

I often wonder where statements like this begin, especially when they emerge simultaneously from all corners of the state.  I wonder if I am on the wrong mailing lists, watching the wrong channels or visiting the wrong web sites.  I would argue that all of the “facts” above are false, or at best, highly unlikely.

I encourage you to keep your guard up, do some fact-checking and base your local broadband policy and technology decisions on information that holds up to tough scrutiny.  Seeking the quality criticism can help you make your project stronger.  And if someone questions your choices based only on their “facts,” be confident that you have done your homework.

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