As originally posted in Blandin on Broadband blog…
I am faced with two contradictory observations about broadband right now. First, the intensity of desire for and the impatience for improvement of broadband has never been higher if our Blandin Broadband Communities are representative of rural Minnesota.
Infrastructure and service discussions are dominating our recently completed vision and project development meetings. Over the years, I have told countless communities that the lack of high-speed broadband was going to be a significant detriment to their community’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. That day is here.
Community leaders now tell me how the lack of quality broadband is having negative effects on business recruitment efforts and business retention programs. School superintendents talk of the haves and have-nots of connected students and that impact on homework and curriculum. Throughout the community, negative impacts are felt. Interest in Blandin Foundation’s Robust Network Feasibility Fund is stronger than ever with many communities gearing up to examine market, costs, business models and finance in preparation for an expected round two of DEED broadband grants.
That contrasts with my observation that broadband is not the hot topic at the Capitol that it was last session. Last year, it seemed that the Senator Schmit tour, the task force recommendation for $100 million combined with the excitement for the creation of the Office of Broadband that the broadband topic was near the top of everyone’s priority list. That enthusiasm now seems to be a bit on auto-pilot. Although I am not actively engaged in the nitty-gritty of the legislative session, I do know that the rewards go to those who show up and make their voices heard. With many new legislators, broadband backers must reach out and make sure that your own legislators know what a priority broadband is for your community.
My advice – Do not just expect that DEED’s broadband grant fund will be renewed or increased to higher levels of spending. Broadband is competing with more traditional uses of state dollars with very organized constituencies – roads and bridges, human services, bike paths, k12 and higher education – the list is long and the interest groups well practiced in the legislative arts. Turn your lone voice into a strong and clear community broadband voice.