Minnesota slow to support technologies that could draw new jobs and bring new services to people

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Internet speeds in more than four-fifths of Minnesota are too slow to support technologies that could draw new jobs, take cars off the roads and bring new services to people in their homes, a new report said Friday.

The Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force is calling for minimum Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second for the entire state by 2015, setting a standard 15 times faster than the current federal definition of broadband.

By that measure, 83 percent of the state needs an upgrade.

The group’s report describes broadband as “an economic and social necessity for all citizens of the state no matter where they are located.” It says faster Internet could enable everything from more telecommuting for workers to telemedicine linking patients and doctors through two-way high-definition video.

“It’s an important economic tool as we try to attract and retain the best companies here so we can have good jobs,” said Rick King, chief technology officer at Thomson Reuters Legal and the task force’s chairman.

King presented the report during a hearing before two legislative panels, where lawmakers said slow Internet service is a drag on the state’s economy. They hope Minnesota will compete successfully for federal stimulus grants to expand broadband in rural areas.

“It’s time to start thinking of broadband as a baseline utility accessible to every Minnesota home and business,” said Sen. John Doll, a Democrat from Burnsville.

It’s unclear exactly how much the widespread upgrade would cost. King said the price could reach $10 billion if fiber-optic cables were laid to every part of the state, but much cheaper wireless technology is coming that could connect homes at high speeds for about $1,200 per home.

The task force expects private Internet providers and the federal government to bear most of the cost of the improvements. King said the state dollars might eventually come into play to create incentives to hook up remote areas not otherwise served.

The 23-member task force was established by a 2008 state law. The group is asking the Legislature to approve its recommendations and create a new broadband access council to monitor progress.