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Theme 2 - Broadly Connected or Digitally Divided? [1]Edit

Question:Edit

Over the last 75 years a mix of market forces and government policies have left Minnesota businesses and residents with telecommunication services that range from quite poor to extraordinary. From degrading copper wires to local wi-fi (wireless Internet) and fiber to home, the differences and bandwidth available from one community to next are significant. Overall, the United States and Minnesota are falling behind our global competitors in high speed broadband telecommunications (over 1MB/sec) in terms of availability and price.

Do you support state investments, incentives, or targets and other obligations to improve Minnesota’s digital telecommunications infrastructure? Please share your plan for connecting Minnesota and addressing digital divides and opportunities for all Minnesotans and businesses. In your rebuttal, in addition to contrasting your approach or goals with other candidates, you may share additional ideas.

Response from Tim PawlentyEdit

Minnesota’s global economic competitiveness will depend, in part, on our technological infrastructure and ability to connect to everyone, everywhere through an affordable voice, data and entertainment communications system.

In many respects, we are on the right path.

A January 2006 report by the Minnesota-based Center for Rural Policy and Development http://www.mnsu.edu/ruralmn/pages/Publications/reports/2005Telecom.pdf, found that 36.4% of all Minnesota households connect to the internet from home using a broadband connection. Additionally, 54% of rural households and 64.3% of metro households have internet connections and, of those, 27.4% of rural households and 43.9% of the metro area households access the internet through a broadband connection. Unfortunately, 19% of those in rural areas and 5.9% in the metro that use dial-up internet services would like a higher speed connection, but none are available.

How do we get more, if not all, Minnesotans connected to the internet through broadband connections? And, how do we assure that those individuals and businesses who want even higher speed connections can get it?

The answer is not to create another government project with government money, as one of my opponents wants. Further, with dramatically changing technologies, mandating a specific technology for the future would be unwise. Instead, competition and technology decisions made locally and in the marketplace are the best approach.

Accordingly, I support a wide range of actions taken by current providers, entrepreneurs, local governments, and non-profits. This includes:

  • Supporting vibrant competition between types of providers (cable vs. telephone companies) and types of technologies (DSL vs. fiber vs. wireless). This will not only promote expansion of the infrastructure capabilities and reach throughout the state, but improve service quality and lower prices.
  • Encouraging diverse business models and partnerships that successfully satisfy market demand.

Response from Mike HatchEdit

While yesterday’s economy revolved primarily around the exchange of manufactured products, today’s economy revolves around the exchange of ideas. An estimated 63 percent of jobs today require technology skills.

Eight of the ten fastest growing industries nationally are computer-related, and two million new information technology jobs will be created in the next decade nationwide.

Yet a recent study graded Minnesota a ‘D’ for teacher and student access to educational technology, ranking us 49th out of 50 states. Minnesota is also lagging in the availability of high-speed Internet access.

A Blandin Foundation study found that Minnesota ranks 19th in broadband utilization. According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, only 27.4 percent of rural Minnesota households had broadband Internet connections.

In today’s global economy, access to technology and high-speed Internet is essential for survival. As governor, I will invest in technology for our schools and make sure that our students are ready to compete in the knowledge-based economy.

The Iron Range already has fiber optics, and it houses several hundred employees of Delta Dental, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Northwest Airlines. These Minnesota companies outsourced to the Iron Range work that companies in other states send to Asia. Toro Industries is located in Windom in large part because the city wired up the community with fiber optics. We can do the same for the rest of Minnesota.

It is important that we do not have regional inequalities and differences from community to community in bandwidth availability and other infrastructure needs.

As Governor, I will undertake a statewide initiative to ensure that Minnesotans have access to affordable high-speed fiber optic systems. Through a public/private partnership, our state government should coordinate a fiber-optic system that wires up regional cities and makes them attractive for technology development.

I am committed to making Minnesota a leader in the advancement of broadband technology and digital telecommunications. We need the infrastructure to make this happen, the commitment to stay above the curve, and the leadership to forge public and private partnerships to make this happen.

Response from Peter HutchinsonEdit

I want all Minnesotans to have access to the technological infrastructure they need to be productive and successful. We wouldn’t dream of denying Minnesotans access to highways and roads for moving products. Nor should we deny them access to the infrastructure for transporting ideas, information and dialogue.

We have several obstacles to providing cutting edge technology to all of Minnesota. As with most public policy challenges, they will be most successfully met by the joint actions of businesses, governments and citizens. Government has the responsibility of providing the planning and infrastructure for efficiently providing internet access.

Businesses and individuals must take the time to become acquainted with the new technology and understand how to best use it. We have a long way to go on both fronts.

Right now, most Minnesotans have access to some type of internet connection. About 60% of Minnesotans are connected at home, but many of them do not yet have high-speed internet. There are two main reasons for this: One, some Minnesota communities don’t have access to broadband internet. Two, for many Minnesotans the additional benefits of high speed internet do not justify the additional costs. Without the market demand, companies are not willing to expand into under-served markets.

So here’s the plan. Assure that every community has access to broadband technology, starting with publicly accessed community institutions like schools, libraries, city halls and county courthouses. From there, we can encourage the learning and utilization that will build the market for private investment.


Response from Ken PentelEdit

Effective, public infrastructure makes our state successful whether it’s transportation or the internet. If we want our children to have an equal opportunity to obtain the job skills necessary for today’s economy, we must make connections available.

Financing that need is a matter of setting priorities. For example, the $8 billion the Iraq War has cost Minnesotans alone could wire over 8 million homes with fiber. Our needs are far more modest.

Where cities are willing to share their burden of the cost, I would:

  • offer state support to affordable, public, wireless broadband initiatives.
  • extend fiberoptic cables to rural communities where additional capacity is needed.

Response from Walt BrownEdit

I support state incentives to the private sector to improve Minnesota’s telecommunications infrastructure. In every decision regarding this matter, my administration will determine solutions on how to better Minnesotans lives subject to the premise of Quit Raising Taxes.

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