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Broadband Task Force report mixes wants, needs

To its credit, the state-mandated Minnesota Ultra-High Speed Broadband Task Force fully acknowledges it sets some ambitious and lofty goals for statewide access to and superfast use of the Internet.

Nothing better reflects that ambition than seeking to give every resident a "bare minimum" broadband speed connection of 10-20 Mbps by 2015.

For those not familiar with technology, that would be the automotive equivalent of providing every resident with a Cadillac, even if they were adequately served with that old pickup.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to do that. The questions Minnesotans must examine, though, are two-pronged: Is there a need to do that, especially within five years? And what about the costs?

Want vs. need

As much as we understand the economic reasoning behind the task force's desire to wire every corner of the state so it vaults into the nation's top five in Internet speed and access, we disagree with the presumption that residents -- regardless of where they choose to live -- must have the same Net connection.

For example, the report puts broadband access on the same public-infrastructure plane as roads and electricity, even calling it "an economic and social necessity for all citizens of the state no matter where they are located."

Sure, superfast Web access is something to build into your economic toolbox -- like when supply and demand coalesce to upgrade from that standard hammer to a nail gun.

Costs?

As with other state-mandated task forces, recommendations here lack specific costs and who will pay them.

What is clear, though, is plenty of private and public money already has been spent. The report notes:

Private providers have spent $8 billion of their own money.

Loans and co-op financing have spurred an investment of more than $50 million.

And municipal entities have raised and spent $35 million.

Coupled with ever-improving technology, the result is 94 percent of Minnesotans now have federal-level broadband access. It's just slower than the 10-20 Mbps goal of the task force.

Certainly, in an ideal world, all of Minnesota would be plugged in and upgraded to that speed within five years. But lacking details about costs and who pays them, it's hard to embrace as realistic the task force's objectives and time frames. To say nothing of those residents who like living on the gravel.

The task force's report is available at its Web site, www.ultra-high-speed-mn.org. -- St. Cloud Times

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