Becky West, of New London, Minnesota, shares the frustration that many Greater Minnesota residents have over slow broadband service.
Unlike most, she's found a target to be mad as hell about.
In Baker falls short on broadband, a letter to the West Central Tribune, West writes:
On May 18 Rep. Dave Baker voted to earmark $2 million to the city of Annandale for broadband, while ignoring Kandiyohi County’s need for quality Internet service.
Then, ironically, on Aug. 19 Baker put out a press release about applications for broadband grants and said, “Expanding broadband to the areas that need it most will mean more opportunities for families here in Greater Minnesota. I will keep pushing hard to build on our broadband investments next session and make sure we’re able to bring the countless benefits of broadband to even more parts of the state.”
More parts than just Annandale, I presume?
Maybe next session, rather than “pushing hard” for Annandale, Rep. Baker will advocate for his own community of Kandiyohi County.
Rep. Baker, I have spent one to two and a half hours for as much as every day over two weeks, attempting to improve Internet access at my home in your district.
I happen to have only one option for my provider. Monopolies do not encourage customer service.
I can only dream of what an addition of $2 million would do for my family and friends in your district.
Rep. Baker, please don’t require us to travel 50 miles to Annandale for quality Internet service. Thanks a lot for “pushing hard” for Annandale, Rep. Baker.
Others pushing hard for Annandale
Perhaps West is being too hard on Baker, since he only did what the City of Annandale's lobbyists wanted. MPR reported in Annandale watches special session for broadband help:
Count the 3,200 residents of Annandale, Minn., as particularly interested in the upcoming special legislative session. That’s because one of the bills Gov. Dayton vetoed last week included $10 million for rural broadband.
That isn’t much, as high-speed Internet projects go, half the amount that got spread around the state in 2014. But 20 percent of it was earmarked for Annandale. So the city’s plan to build a fiber-optic network that would serve all residents and 170 businesses didn’t get the funding that seemed likely.
Dayton criticized the legislation for not containing more money for rural broadband, something he has pushed for in the past. But he also was critical of the special provision for Annandale.
“The earmarking of $2 million for one specific broadband project undermines the program’s competitive process and sets a dangerous precedent,” he wrote in explaining his veto of the jobs and energy bill. . . .
. . . .it [The City of Annandale] hired the lobbying firm Flaherty & Hood, flooded the Capitol with visits by officials and got most of the money it wanted included in the final bill this year.
No other project was singled out like that, either this year or last year. The earmark language was in the House bill, not in the Senate bill, but the final jobs and energy bill that emerged from a conference committee at the last minute included it.
Here's where we imagine it was hard for Baker to keep his priorities straight. Who were the lobbyists at Flaherty & Hood who worked for the City of Annandale? According to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board:
|Timothy P Flaherty||7345||3/11/2015||Yes|
|Chris J Henjum||2923||3/11/2015|
|Martin J Seifert||3281||3/11/2015|
Who else hired Flaherty & Hood to lobby for Greater Minnesota broadband? That would be the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Here are the lobbyists for the CGMC:
|Amanda C Duerr||2801||3/30/2012||1/9/2015|
|Glen D Fladeboe||2414||11/4/2009|
|Timothy P Flaherty||7345||Pre-1996||Yes|
|Chris J Henjum||2923||2/1/2013|
|Carolyn C Jackson||2086||1/21/2015|
|Douglas J Johnson||1255||8/4/2003|
|Michael J Miller||1626||11/29/2012||6/30/2014|
|Bradley M Peterson||1613||1/26/2007|
|Martin J Seifert||3281||1/6/2015|
|Loren A Solberg||3070||7/31/2015|
|Jeff Van Wychen||340||4/22/2013|
|Elizabeth A Wefel||2203||9/11/2008|
New London is not listed as a member, according to the group's website.
But we can only wonder: when Dorman, Flaherty, Henjem and Seifert go seeking broadband money from a limited pot of money, which client takes precedent? And when we read columns placed in local newspapers about the sorry state of rural broadband by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, are we supposed to share that anger--or wonder why that association--in which cities pay to be members--continues to retain a firm that's got other clients feeding at the same pot.
Details, details, but Dorman may have provided an answer in a Watchdog article about Annandale's happy ending.
Annandale's happy ending
Over at the conservative-funded Watchdog.org Minnesota Bureau, Tom Steward reports in City drops taxpayer-funded Internet plan for private provider:
One of the loudest advocates for municipal broadband in Minnesota has announced a surprise deal with a private provider involving no government financial support.
Just weeks ago, a legislative deal crafted by taxpayer-funded lobbyists for $2 million in state telecom grant funds for a government-owned fiber optic network fell through, and the city of Annandale appeared stuck with a system chronically criticized for outages and sluggish speeds.
“When your citizens and residents are screaming for help and better service, and the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide a solution, then that’s when government has to step in. So we did,” said Mayor Dwight Gunnarson.
Then, virtually out of cyberspace, Mid-Continent Communications unveiled plans to install a broadband cable network in the city of 3,300, advertising, some of the fastest speeds in the country by 2017.
“Is it our ultimate network that we wanted? No. Is it very, very close? I would say, yeah. Is it going to do what our residents and businesses need here for the near future? Yes, so it was a pretty easy decision,” Gunnarson said. . . .
Dan Dorman, one of the Hood & Flaherty lobbyists for Annandale and for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, comments on the article:
Let's hope this works out for the businesses and residents of Annandale. And in full disclosure I am on of the lobbyists that worked on this project last year. The City has, like most cities I have spoken with, would prefer to have a provider step up to the plate and invest. The problem comes when the provider does not what to invest, often due to a lack of competition. Unregulated monopolies is not free-market competition.
In many cities, the loudest push to upgrade does not come from residents, rather from the businesses and industries demanding and needing better service. Annandale has lost at least one business due to poor service and no one knows how many passed them up for expansions because of it.
The fact that Minnesota has not dropped to 25th in the nation in broadband access is and should be embarrassing for all of us.
FYI for $2 million, Annandale would have served more businesses than will be served by all those awarded parts of the $20 million in state funding from two years ago. [emphasis added]
Becky West, even the lobbyist hired by nearby Willmar spoke fondly of Annandale, a city which in the end turned out being attractive to private market providers. Those often making the loudest noise in the media? They weren't working for you--indeed Dorman implies voices like yours don't exist.
Perhaps you might ask your state representative to pick up the banner of reforming Minnesota's influence industry--as well as directly state funds for broadband toward areas like New London that have the fewest options to sign up for crappy service, rather than the loudest voices.
That might be a start.
Photo: Dan Dorman, paid to represent clients, not some sort of generic "Greater Minnesota." In this photo, "GMNP President Gary Evans and Executive Director Dan Dorman testify in support of broadband legislation," via the Greater Minnesota Partnership's webpage.
Here's the list of registered lobbyists for the Greater Minnesota Partnership:
|Timothy P Flaherty||7345||12/23/2013||Yes|
|Chris J Henjum||2923||12/23/2013|
|Michael J Miller||1626||12/23/2013||6/30/2014|
|Loren A Solberg||3070||2/2/2015|
Bluestem recommends that our readers always check out who's paying the hired talent at the state capitol by using the resources available at the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. Of course, large swaths of this industry are not obligated to report any activity; our favorite is the not-lobbyists at the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future handing out good conduct certificates to legislators. Thank heavens for minutes at government boards, or we'd never know who threw that chunk of North Dakota coal our way.
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