Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Public-private battle in rural Minn. over broadband service is case study in a nationwide struggle

Cable companies weren't interested when the federal government dangled millions of dollars to expand broadband Internet service and boost economic opportunities in Lake County, Minnesota, on Lake Superior (Wikipedia map). But "They didn't want anyone else to build a system, either," report Jim Spencer and Larry Oakes of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "That would mean competition in small parts of the county they already serve, even if it would leave thousands of northeastern Minnesota residents and businesses without broadband. So in 2010, when Lake County applied for federal stimulus funds to build a countywide network, it ran straight into a challenge from industry giant Mediacom and the Minnesota Cable Communications Association. The conflict that ensued is part of a national struggle," one that is repeated over and over in communities across the country, perhaps one you know or cover.

"Public officials and some of their constituents argue that rural broadband is like rural electrification: It's a lifeline for small-town America that the free market will not extend. Economics are at the center of the debate, since both sides acknowledge that running broadband exclusively into remote areas won't pay for itself," the reporters write. "Cable and Internet providers argue that government-backed programs should run broadband only into unserved areas, not locations where private providers already operate. They have lobbied extensively to cut broadband initiatives from the federal budget."

In Lake County, the battle grinds on. Mediacom has charged that "county officials illegally inflated statistics, U.S. senators improperly meddled to keep the project alive," and the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was negligent. "County officials, the senators and the USDA deny those claims, and an inspector general's investigation found them to have no merit. Yet the fight has moved from the rural shores of Lake Superior to a hearing room on Capitol Hill. It shows no signs of ending, even as Lake County begins to run fiber-optic cable." (Read more

1 comment:

lea said...

Expansion of broadband internet service is important in every community, so residents can stay updated, informed and at par with those from areas with internet access. However, there should be proper communication among the entities concerned to avoid conflict.