Minnesota has a new boss of broadband.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration announced Tuesday that Cook County’s Danna MacKenzie is the first executive director for the Office of Broadband Development, a division created last spring. MacKenzie has directed the northern Minnesota county’s information systems and served on a state broadband task force.
The new office has a central role as Minnesota stretches toward a goal of ultra-fast broadband in every corner of the state. Minnesota’s goal is 2015, but most people involved say that will be tough.
About three-quarters of the state’s households now have access to Internet service that meets or exceeds minimum speed standards. It’s pitched as an equalizer for rural communities as they try to keep up in a faster-paced society. The challenge is to expand the technological infrastructure into places with fewer potential customers because traditional providers expect to see return on investment.
The director will provide assistance to local governments and other partners in broadband deployment projects. The office is part of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The search for a director began this summer. The hope was to find someone with a deep technical background as well as familiarity with the policy arena. The position pays up to $102,771, but MacKenzie will start at $95,000.
Minnesota lawmakers put broadband goals into state law in 2010, but since then have been debating ways to achieve them. Another round is shaping up for next year when broadband advocates push to repeal a sales tax on some telecommunications equipment and consider establishing a fund to help get the technology into more rural areas.
DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben said in a news release that MacKenzie’s skills match the task well.
“She is highly regarded in the broadband community and has a unique ability to balance community development and business interests,” Sieben said.
MacKenzie, 47, has been a key technology official in Cook County since 1998 and been an administrator on the Cook County Broadband Commission since 2009. She has a bachelor’s degree from St. Paul’s Concordia University and has been a public policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
She wasn’t available for an interview.
Minnesota High Tech Association president Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who leads the broadband task force, said a full-time coordinator of broadband policy was sorely needed and MacKenzie’s background makes her suited for the challenge.
“She brings real experiences in rural Minnesota, where a lot of the issues with access still exist,” Kelliher said.
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