PoliGraph: Broadband, jobs claims miss the mark

If you happen to live in Greater Minnesota, consider yourself lucky: legislators on both sides of the aisle are making rural issues a priority in this year’s legislative session.

That includes a $227 million plan backed by Senate DFLers that focuses on rural broadband, housing, workforce training and career counseling.

PoliGraph looked at two claims made by Minnesota Democrats backing the proposal, and found that they missed the mark.

The Evidence:

A group of DFL state senators said this week that a big component of job growth involves better access to the Internet because it allows businesses and people to tap resources they may not otherwise be able to.

But DFL Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing said not everyone can get a connection.

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“Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota, that’s 450,000 households, currently lack access to broadband - to basic broadband," he said in a press conference presenting the DFL senators’ plan.

The state has a set of broadband goals: By 2015, all residents and businesses should have access to high-speed broadband that provides a minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second.

The state is behind in meeting those goals.

According to a 2014 report from Gov. Mark Dayton’s broadband task force, a little more than 20 percent of Minnesotans lack access to a fixed broadband connection that meets Minnesota’s speed standards. If you account for cellular connections – which experts say are inferior partly because they can be costly – roughly 10 percent of Minnesota households lack access to broadband that meets Minnesota’s speed standards.

But Schmit’s claim makes it sound like 450,000 Minnesota households can’t connect at all, and that’s not true. According to the task force report, nearly 100 percent of Minnesota households have access to some sort of broadband connection, both wired and cellular combined – though some of those connections may be very slow.

Meanwhille, Chisholm DFL Sen. David Tomassoni said the job vacancy rate in greater Minnesota is high.

“There’s as much as a 16 percent job vacancy rate in greater Minnesota, and it’s all related to skilled labor like in machining, welding and manufacturing,” he said at the same press conference.

The state’s overall job vacancy rate has grown about 16.7 percent in the last year, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

But that’s not the same thing as the job vacancy rate in greater Minnesota, as Tomassoni said.

In fact, DEED data shows that the job vacancy rate in greater Minnesota for all occupations is about 3.7 percent. That’s only slightly higher than the job vacancy rate in the Twin Cities (3 percent) and statewide (3.3 percent).

And those jobs are available in high numbers in food prep and serving, transportation and material moving, healthcare support, and building and grounds cleaning – not only the skilled jobs Tomassoni mentioned.

In a rare moment for PoliGraph, Tomassoni acknowledged that he misspoke.

“During the press conference yesterday, I was attempting to use the statistic that there has been a 16 percent increase in job vacancies – hence the need for more job training. I misspoke and said there was a 16 percent job vacancy rate,” he wrote in an email. “In Senate committee hearings, from constituents and from businesses, rural members are hearing that they are finding it difficult to find skilled labor to fill job vacancies. The legislation I have authored to secure more money for job training is a direct response to the needs I am hearing about.”

The Verdict

Schmit claimed that 450,000 households lack access to broadband. He didn’t conjure that number out of thin air, but it overstates the issue: 450,000 households lack access to high-speed broadband. As a result, Schmit’s claim earns a misleading.

Tomassoni said that the job vacancy rate in greater Minnesota is 16 percent, but it’s far less than that, so his claim earns a false.  But PoliGraph also gives him kudos for owning up to the fact that he misspoke.