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PSC candidates introduce plan to improve Internet access

FARGO — Two Democratic candidates for the state Public Service Commission say they would make improving the state’s technology and Internet infrastructure a priority if elected.

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Tyler Axness and Todd Reisenauer, at a news conference Tuesday, announced a proposal called “Broadband North Dakota” that they say would ensure access to 6-megabytes-per-second Internet speeds for all residents and 1-gigabyte speeds for businesses.

Axness said he would accomplish that goal by partnering with Internet companies and lobbying the Legislature to allow tax breaks for companies that provide faster Internet in more locations.

“There’s vast areas around the state that don’t have any access to wired or fixed Internet,” Axness said.

Reisenauer said their goal is to “make North Dakota an IT powerhouse.”

“We must take this opportunity to diversify our economy” before the oil boom eventually ends, he said, adding that there is a “lack of leadership” on this issue.

Their two opponents, Republican incumbents Julie Fedorchak and Brian Kalk, said efforts are underway to improve Internet access and that much has already been accomplished.

Fedorchak said the Information Technology Council of North Dakota is working on tax incentives for broadband improvements and that rural telephone cooperatives have invested in infrastructure to bring broadband to residents.

“I know that there’s a lot of work underway already to address some of these issues,” Fedorchak said.

Kalk said the state’s booming energy sector has meant “a larger opportunity for the expansion of the state’s broadband” and that “the state has made huge advances.”

Kalk and Fedorchak also noted that the PSC has limited authority over broadband Internet, which Kalk called “basically an unregulated entity.”

Axness acknowledged that approval from the Legislature is needed for the tax incentives for broadband companies he and Reisenauer propose, but said the PSC has “oversight over communications.”

“This is addressing a prolonged problem of unreliable Internet service,” Axness said. “It’s 2014.”

Axness represents Fargo’s District 16 in the state Senate, and Reisenauer is an independent business consultant who lives in Fargo.