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June 19, 2019

6/6/2019 3:29:00 PM
Congress holds field hearing at local business

A subcommittee of the United States Congress held a 90-minute hearing last week, looking into the Internet’s limitations in rural America.  The companies providing communications services have no motivation to install infrastructure to very few customers in the country.  Access that is spread far apart and that is expensive to install is not cost-effective.

The U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure met at a Franconia Township industrial shop,  where the hearing was attended by about 70 people.

This fact-gathering is an early part of a process that will hopefully bring enhanced Internet funding as a priority into a federal infrastructure package.  
The chair for the subcommittee Rep. Jared Golden of Maine also said testimony may aid in getting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to give substandard Internet more attention.

Chisago County’s District 8 U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown,  thanked host Matt Crescenzo of Bulltear Industries, for holding the hearing.  
MN U.S. Representatives Jim Hagedorn and Angie Craig were also participating.

Four witnesses formally testified;  Crescenzo, along with Adam Artz, of “Realty Executives”  and  Greg Carlson from Cambridge, of Presbyterian Homes and Services and Marc Johnson, speaking for an east central Minnesota school district cable cooperative.

Rep. Stauber stated that the small business committee members “...are working in a very bipartisan way to get things done.”  

He added, “At some point the U.S. government decided that everybody would get U.S. Mail,”  and he likened that mission to enhancing rural Internet making it accessible to all.  

Rep. Hagedorn said Congress is willing to work with officials in Minnesota and let local officials determine where to improve capacity and speeds for unserved areas.

Rep. Craig asked those testifying for comments about applications where she sees broadband/fiber optic remote services helping to save money,  such as in health and addiction care, social services, education and other areas.

Realtor Adam Artz, a North Branch resident, told the subcommittee that today’s homebuyers ask more often about the Internet service than ‘how is the school district.’  He said home value can be impacted by tens of thousands when the level of Internet service is sub-par.

Artz was involved in the recent design team effort in North Branch and he said when youth were asked what would make them stay in North Branch, more excellent Internet was mentioned.  Opportunities through quality Internet to work from home-- also goes hand-in-hand with being able to afford housing, he said.

Crescenzo told the elected officials “it was Internet that allowed this business to exist.”  Still, Bulltear Industries “struggles every day” with poor Internet capacity and reliability.  He added he would never locate his operation where it is, if he had it to do all over again.  The Franconia area is 20 years behind urban services elsewhere.

He is, however, a “...firm believer in the county, the workforce and talent pool” Bulltear has attracted.

The growth of the business is  attributable to local support and he hopes to continue to support the economy here.

The school districts in the east central part of Minnesota also deserve better, said Educational Cooperative director Johnson.  The state allows for “e-learning days” to trigger when weather conditions make it hazardous to travel to the classroom; but many students can’t get on-line.  The district can only utilize e-learning days if ALL students have the ability to connect with their instructors.  Chisago Lakes Superintendent Dean Jennissen, talking with the press after the hearing,  confirmed this is an issue.  

North Branch Technology Director Darin Marcussen agreed.  Also, he told the reporter, the WI-FI hotspots on (nine) North Branch buses fall short of their purpose to help  students use their electronic devices when going to away games for example, but the ability to access the Internet isn’t reliable regionwide.  The district has students in certain areas of Chisago County as well, where Internet is slow or spotty.  It is not fair or equitable for some students to access high speed service and others can not.

Rep. Stauber said he has four kids.  There is high speed reliable service on the Internet at his house while,  “just down the road there are kids who don’t.”


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