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State Representative Paul Anderson

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Posted: 2018-03-05
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Legislative Update

Interesting meeting regarding rural high-speed internet


 

By Rep. Paul Anderson

Attended a meeting in Fergus Falls last week where “rural broadband” was the topic. A good cross section of interested folks was represented, including phone and internet providers, local government officials, federal representatives and several other state legislators. We heard a presentation of the importance of quality internet access, with both upload and download speeds fast enough to allow folks to live in Greater Minnesota and still be able to conduct their work from home.

It was especially interesting to see spreadsheet-like numbers showing the likelihood of extending fiber optic cable to those who live in sparsely populated areas. The example used was Ottertail County, one of the larger counties in the state, in terms of size. There has been much activity in recent years to bring high-speed internet to residents of the county, and it was estimated that within the next five years, approximately two-thirds of the county’s area would have coverage. However, because of the high cost, providing fiber optic service to the remainder of the county is a challenge. Even figuring in state broadband grants to cover half of that cost, it will be challenging to finish the build-out.

Because of the population sparsity in areas such as this, it seems to me that wireless or satellite coverage is another option that should be looked at. Technology is improving rapidly and, as more towers are built, coverage is getting better. I happened to get a post card in the mail last week with details of satellite coverage from a company promising speeds of three megabits per second up and 25 down. Don’t know much more about it, but at the meeting in Fergus Falls, wireless was briefly discussed. In open terrain, we were told, it can work well. But in areas with lots of trees and hills, reception can be challenging.

An interesting statistic taken from the meeting was the cost of running fiber optic to the door. It can range from $4,000 all the way up to $12,000 per home. It was also mentioned that having high-speed internet service made houses easier to sell, with the average increase in value ranging from three to $7,000 per home.

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No action was taken in either body of the Legislature last week on the subject of granting additional funding to MNLARS to continue working on their new license and registration software. They had requested several weeks ago that an additional $40-something million was needed to finish fixing problems with the system that went online last July. They later said that $10 million was needed almost immediately, or else folks working on the system would be getting layoff notices. Their deadline for receiving those funds was last Thursday, and when no action was taken to provide funding, those notices are apparently being sent out.

Keep in mind that nearly $100 million has already been spent on the project, and the roll out of the new system has been extremely troublesome. Just handing more money to those working on the system doesn’t seem like the best option, not until assurances are given that the system at some point in the future will work properly and that this additional funding is truly needed.

It’s important that this system works properly. It provides a great deal of revenue to the state, and later this year it’s supposed to be integrated with the new Real ID system, our new drivers’ license format that will allow folks to travel by airplane and be federal-ID compliant.

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