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Jim Walter, Published March 10 2014

Letter: Legislators should stand up for rural broadband

Broadband and connectivity have become increasingly important in recent years. Consumers want the best, fastest and most reliable service.

We know this well at 702 Communications – a locally owned and operated communications company located in Moorhead, servicing broadband needs of schools, hospitals and the general public all across northwest Minnesota.

Last year, the state of Minnesota made it more challenging for companies like ours to make investments in broadband expansion when it imposed a brand new sales tax on the telecom equipment necessary to deliver these critical services.

Repeal tax

A recently released study by Columbia University economist Raul Katz concluded that there are significant, negative economic impacts for Minnesota as it relates to our broadband future. The report clearly shows that repealing the tax on telecommunications equipment is the best way for the state to maximize investments in broadband across the entire state. The tax exemption is technology neutral and fosters all Minnesotans having access to high-speed Internet and wireless communications.

The investment in broadband for all Minnesotans is the reason that Gov. Mark Dayton has called for the repeal of this tax. It is the reason the Governor’s Broadband Taskforce, led by former Speaker of the House and current president of the Minnesota High Tech Association Margaret Anderson Kelliher, has called for the repeal of the tax. And it is the reason that just over a week ago, a broad coalition of high-tech, cable, wireless and telecom companies like us stood together to support the governor’s call to eliminate this tax.

For hospitals

For us, and for our communities in northwestern Minnesota, this is critical. We support broadband for our hospitals and schools. Hyper-fast, reliable broadband allows our Greater Minnesota hospitals to serve patients as though they were in the middle of a metropolitan area. Broadband also allows us to provide the best of technologically innovated educational opportunities. Connectivity allows our students to learn with tools that were once far more difficult to provide. We’ve been able to build out much of the infrastructure to support health care and education.

But what is next? Next-generation broadband will also take equipment. With the added cost, Greater Minnesota could once again be left behind.

Across the river

As Minnesota was imposing a new tax on telecommunications equipment, our neighbors across the border in North Dakota were eliminating the exact same tax. Being from Moorhead, we have a front-row seat to the competition our job creators see on the borders. It is imperative that our legislators in northwest Minnesota champion repeal of the telecommunications equipment tax. This includes Reps. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, and Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, along with Sens. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, and others.

As they begin their work this legislative session, we encourage our legislators to stand together in support of the repeal of the broadband tax. We’ll do our part to continue investing in the infrastructure to provide connectivity and the new speeds consumers demand.

Walter is president and CEO of Moorhead-based 702 Communications, which provides telecommunications services in Fargo, West Fargo and Wahpeton in North Dakota; and Moorhead, Dilworth and Breckenridge in Minnesota.