A letter sent to local media by the Blandin Foundation…
High-speed Internet (broadband) is essential for rural communities to thrive, and even survive, in the 21st century. From our experience and many research findings, we believe this to be truer today than ever.
Rural Minnesotans agree. In our 2016 Rural Pulse survey, three out of four rural Minnesota respondents believed that improved Internet could help improve local economic vitality.
This perception was tested by a report, cited in a recent Forum newspapers article, from Oklahoma State University (OSU) titled “Does Broadband Matter for Rural Entrepreneurs and Creative Class Employees?”
The report finds that higher broadband availability and adoption may reduce the number of entrepreneurs and “creative class” employees in rural communities. The authors attribute this to individuals finding a job elsewhere, because they are connected to the world, or choosing a local job over starting a business.
In our work with more than 100 rural communities across Minnesota, we see a different picture.
And even the OSU study authors acknowledge that their findings on “creative class” employees are only a partial glimpse into the need for broadband to support rural economies. There’s so much more to tell.
They write, “None of this is to say that pursuing improved broadband availability or adoption rates is something that rural areas should avoid. There is mounting evidence that achieving higher broadband adoption rates can lead to improved economic outcomes in rural areas.”
A 2015 Strategic Networks Group report, specifically studying Minnesota, found that for every dollar invested in broadband access and use, $10 is returned in direct and spinoff impacts to the local economy. Broadband Communities Magazine found that counties with better broadband access are adding population at 10 times the rate of counties that lack good broadband connections.
This month our Blandin team is meeting with ten rural communities that have pulled together a diverse group of broadband champions to partner with Blandin Foundation to enhance broadband access and use in their local businesses, schools and health care facilities. We’ve heard wonderful stories of rural entrepreneurship and innovation, workforce enhancement, digital equity and community marketing that quickly fill the two-hour meeting. These stories motivate us to continue our commitment to rural Minnesota broadband.
Rural Minnesotans clearly recognize the benefits of broadband and increasingly expect them in their community. In this year’s Rural Pulse, 64 percent of respondents said their community does a good job improving access to the Internet, down from 82 percent in 2013. As rural Minnesotans increasingly experience how important broadband is, dissatisfaction with the slow progress in deploying broadband that meets state goals is mounting.
Rural leaders know their communities best and they recognize the need for a fully-connected future. They are working hard and focusing on the prize – vibrant, resilient communities that work for everybody.
Know that Blandin Foundation stands with you.
Kathleen Annette President and CEO, Blandin Foundation