High-speed hang-ups: Bill aims for faster Internet in greater MN

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Two lawmaker are hoping to better connect rural Minnesota.

Northland's News Center reports Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) introduced a $100 million dollar bill to help greater Minnesota – specifically businesses, farmers and schools – get high-speed, broadband Internet.

The grant program, introduced Thursday in St. Paul, would help communities and providers pay to install fiber optic cable, the News Center reports.

“Minnesota has yet to make a necessary commitment to its broadband infrastructure,” Simonson told the station. “We’re creating two Minnesotas – one where quick, reliable access to high-speed Internet is a given and one where it is rare."

What qualifies as broadband Internet? The FCC defines it as "significantly higher speeds" than traditional dial-up access. In strict numbers, the FCC says the low-end is 200 kilobits per second (kbps), and that can go up dramatically. High-end services in the U.S. are offering 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). Note, there are 1,024 kilobits in 1 Megabit.

The country's average is 18.2 Mbps, according to Gizmodo.

KARE 11 notes the bill is part of a push by Greater MN Partnership – a nonprofit that says it advocates for economic policies and resources that benefit rural Minnesota.

In a press release, the group outlines the stark difference in Web access for greater Minnesota compared to the metro area, data from ConnectMN. It says 92 percent of households in the Twin Cities area have "high-quality broadband" Internet access.

Drive outside of the metro, and that number plummets to just 32 percent of households, the group says.

In addition, the Greater MN Partnership says if 95 percent of all Minnesota households could access "top-quality" broadband, "it would have a $1 billion impact on the state’s gross domestic product."

Studies seem to back up the notion that quality Internet access can spur economic development in the 21st century.

Forbes dug in to a report, which concluded doubling broadband speed for an economy increases its economic output by 0.3 percent. (This report from the Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences Department at Berkeley, comes to a similar conclusion: A 1.19 percent jump in gross domestic product for developed countries when broadband penetration increases 10 percent).

The Forbes author then focuses on the impact rural access can have.

"Getting everyone, however rural, up to 2 Mbits produces a much better return on investment than trying to make sure that urban areas have 50 Mbits, or 100," he writes. "Which rather makes sense if it is the move from dial up to broadband which produces the biggest jolt of economic growth. ... We do know however, that the move from none to 2 Mbits, or from 256 k to 2 M, does indeed produce those growth dividends."

For Minnesota, Schmidt told KARE 11 the bill he helped author would give rural residents the opportunity to create tangible results.

"I'd be remiss not to remind you we have more references to the telegraph in our state laws than we have to the Internet," Schmidt said to the station. "That is not adequate for 2014, and we can do something about that."

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