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Minnesotan Argues Municipal Broadband Best Fit For Unserved Areas

January 27, 2015

MN FlagIn a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO Annette Meeks argues against undoing state municipal broadband laws like Minnesota’s, which requires local citizens to have a say in whether their city builds a government-owned network.

One of Meeks’ primary concerns is the impact municipal broadband networks have on taxpayers. She discusses a Lake County, Minn. project, which has been so “marred by upheaval” that the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector general launched an investigation into the potential misuse of government funds. (Construction on the Lake County network has been delayed several times and the network is still not operational. Read more about the Lake County project here.)

The failure leaves 15,000 county taxpayers “on the hook for projected shortfalls.” Lake County is not unique in the state. Indeed, Meeks says, “Virtually every time a local government in Minnesota has attempted to build its own public broadband network to compete with the public sector, the results have been an unmitigated disaster.” (To learn more about similar municipal broadband network failures, CNE recommends this report by Charles Davidson and Michael Santorelli at New York Law School.)

While Meeks recommends local and state governments, and the federal government, be cautious about entering the broadband market as a competitor she doesn’t rule out government-owned broadband completely.

She simply says government-owned networks should stick to areas where private providers don’t currently offer service.

Meeks concludes her column by reminding policymakers that the private broadband market in her state “is flourishing and dynamic” (she reports private providers have invested $5 billion in Minnesota over the last nine years) and advises that policymakers “focus on expanding broadband access where there is currently none instead of wasting finite resources on duplicative networks in a misguided attempt to compete with the private sector.”

She’s right.

According to Meeks, 98 percent of Minnesotans have broadband available to them through a private sector provider. Shouldn’t public officials concentrate on those last unserved two percent, instead of wasting taxpayer money where broadband access already exists?