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32 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2014 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT Broadband Utilization Programs Can Yield Impressive ROI A study of two rural Minnesota counties fnds that an initiative to help small businesses use broadband more efectively could pay for itself quickly. By Michael Curri / Strategic Networks Group I n 2009, the Minnesota State Legislature adopted a goal of statewide broadband access of at least 10 Mbps to 20 Mbps download and 5 to 10 Mbps upload by 2015. However, nearly one-third of Greater (nonmetropolitan) Minnesota still lacks access to speeds of 10 Mbps download and 6 Mbps upload. Approximately 50 percent of rural Minnesota households lack wired broadband connections that meet the state broadband speed goals. Tis is noteworthy because many communities across Minnesota face economic development challenges. A Moody's Analytics report from October 2013 notes that the "increasing divergence" between economies of the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota is one of the state's top three economic weaknesses and cautions that these areas will face "the risk of returning to recession as jobs and residents fock to the Twin Cities." Given the broadband connectivity gap and the economic challenges Greater Minnesota faces, policymakers and community leaders need to understand the economic benefts of ubiquitous broadband access throughout the state. "Is broadband good for our community or region?" is no longer asked because there is a growing, almost universal recognition – and signifcant evidence – that broadband is critical for economic vitality and community well- being. In many economies, the availability of broadband is a minimum condition for economic competitiveness, and this need is particularly acute for rural and remote economies. Te current lack of access to fber-based broadband should be perceived as a weakness. At the same time, addressing this defcit should be considered a tremendous opportunity, especially for rural and non-urban Minnesota. Broadband is clearly identifed by Minnesota regional economic development agencies as an infrastructure initiative that encourages job growth and business expansion. An efective broadband investment initiative would include investment in infrastructure (reliable connectivity is clearly a necessary condition) as well as programs to educate businesses, raise their awareness and encourage their adoption and utilization of eSolutions (Internet-enabled applications). Tis includes outreach and engagement with businesses, training and support, and coordination by local and regional economic development agencies. To be successful, this efort would need to be appropriately resourced and accompanied by an appropriate strategy to maximize benefts and accelerate the rate at which these benefts accrue. BROADBAND IN TWO COUNTIES People are asking the right questions: "How much beneft does broadband bring to citizens, businesses, and communities?" and "How can we maximize those benefts?" To answer these, Strategic Networks Group (SNG) applied its proprietary, scenario-based BBC_Mar14.indd 32 3/14/14 2:46 PM