Will Minnesota finally invest in rural internet?

Internet Infrastructure

PHOTO: Joselito Tagarao, Creative Commons license

This week, State Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) will introduce a bill investing $100 million in state dollars into rural internet infrastructure in Minnesota. The Star Tribune published a story by Jenna Ross about the broadband expansion bill and the poor conditions facing internet workers in rural Minnesota.

I am one of the rural internet people she interviewed, so here’s what I said:

Brown depends on the Internet to teach online courses, among other things. Most months, he and his family exceed the max bandwidth on their $134-a-month satellite service and have to drive to town to finish their work.

“I get about a movie a month,” said Brown, who lives outside Nashwauk. “We actually have arguments — is that 5-minute YouTube video worth it?”

To be clear, I don’t actually get to stream a full length movie at home. If I did, that would be all the internet I get for a month. I get that much (maybe a little more) internet to do my job, this weird side job you’re reading now, and the internet my wife needs to operate her business. Plus absolutely anything my kids do online, and they’re not even teenagers yet. We pay as much money as human beings can pay for the service available to us, and we’re always capped at least a week before the new month.

Minnesota politicsThere are really several very important debates regarding the internet going on all at once these days.

The first is the logistical reality that high-speed internet infrastructure doesn’t reach all the households in Minnesota. Even if people can afford high-speed internet, they can’t actually buy it.

Another issue is the fact that internet service providers have monopolies in some areas create a chilling effect on any expansion of the network or private investment in new areas.

Yet another issue is seen in the recent Time-Warner/Comcast merger, and the Netflix “toll road” deal, where enormous cable companies are finding ways to sell more-reliable internet to richer customers, and leaving a chaotic, second-rate system for consumers and small businesses.

As I shared in this infographic  “Why American Internet is Lagging,” American internet speed trails the rest of the industrialized world, all while costing consumers many times more than what people pay in countries with faster internet. Some American cities and states have taken initiative in spurring development, but most of the time America has deferred to private providers to put internet wherever they feel they can make a profit. The problem is that the initial cost of running rural internet lines is prohibitive; a company would have to take a major risk and then watch as other companies profited from that risk.

The result has been a tiered system. And, frankly, even from a national perspective, even in big cities, American internet infrastructure is weak and overpriced. Remember how back in the ’80s people would make fun of Soviet grocery stores? Yeah, that’s us and our internet now. And the countries making the jokes are small and don’t even have navies. Also, America invented the internet. How does that feel?

Internet is a utility. Internet is a utility. Internet is a utility. Not a luxury. Not just for nerds and weirdos. Not just for kids. Not just for cat videos. Education, commerce, culture and news are now widely disseminated through the internet. If you do not have high speed internet, you do not live in modern society. You cannot mine for the internet. You cannot weld the internet in a pole building on the edge of town. You must invest in infrastructure to deliver the internet.

You’d better believe that when an Iron Range mine has the technology to run its trucks and shovels with a sophisticated wireless system, it will. It’s not if, it’s when. So let’s have the broadband infrastructure available so the Iron Range economy survives with engineers, designers and entrepreneurs working from our towns and our woods through the wires of the world.

The best part is that it can be done, and when it’s done no one will ever doubt that it was a good idea. It’s an easy vote for a politician to take, aided for once by the fact that universal broadband the right thing to do for our region, our state and our country.


  1. I’m with you Aaron but what about those folks who’re asking for free cell service, free electricity, free natural gas and especially….free propane? How do we present our argument for free internet over these other important utilities?

  2. Wow. OK. I think most folks would understand that I’m not talking about free internet service. I’m talking about available internet service at a fair price. You don’t get free electricity or phone service, but you do have the ability to buy those things and pay market rate no matter where you live.

  3. This is something the rural power coops have stumbled and dropped the ball on. They already have wires going everywhere, it shouldn’t be a big deal to string some fiber or coax with them. They have access to low rate financing and are largely tax free if I’m not mistaken.

    Look at what Paul Bunyan, a coop phone company, did in Cohasset and other areas. Fiber optic right up to the house.

    What does our power coop choose to do? Promote satellite internet with a financial stake in the system. They have no incentive to do better.

    I can get 4G through Verizon and it’s excellent service, it has limits like satellite and it’s expensive. DSL or cable are simply not options where I live.

    There must be an answer somewhere.

  4. I’m close enough to town that I can easily see the water tower, but no DSL here, plus I’m told it is maxed out in town. I have a more expensive and pretty good service that come via some kind of radio waves. However, we’ll have to make a choice when the leaves come out on the trees (if that ever happens again). Should we cut down that large healthy aspen tree or have the ‘net cut out several times each day. At least this is a local company with great service.

    It is really too bad that so many of the websites come with little videos playing and other do dads that make them take a lot of ‘net juice. I don’t want to look at that distracting stuff, I’ve never downloaded a video, and I rarely look at youtube, though I have enough band width to do those things. I just don’t want to. But those are the things that make MNBrown use up his allotment inadvertently, and make dial up and other slow options impossible.

    Already I can’t get satellite local stations when there are leaves on the trees. Yes, I’ve discussed this with the satellite company, but they want an expensive service call to tell me that there is a forest in the way. We live in the woods and we get wild life viewing. In winter, we get to watch the fire in the wood stove.

  5. Ranger47 says

    I’ve got a chain saw you can borrow…no charge, works well.

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