What to tell your legislator about broadband – based on their top concerns

Broadband is like apple pie  – everyone likes it. It seems unamerican not to like it. But it’s not necessarily your top priority – I mean it’s no strawberry rhubarb a la mode! Unlike apple pie, broadband can be a means to support your top priority. So getting your legislator to understand the importance of broadband may simply be a matter of finding out how broadband can support his/her top priorities.

Step one: Find out who your legislators are.

Step two: Find their top priorities. Tip – check out their campaign website. Do a Google search to find it.

Step three: Find an example to help them make the connection between their issues and broadband and send it to them.

You can look up legislators and their top issues and I noticed some trends:

  • Economic development – supporting and recruiting business that preserves rural lifestyle
  • Farmers need more support
  • Rural areas are being ignored/unsupported
  • Healthcare – we need to drive down costs
  • Education – everyone deserves first rate education

If your legislators’ issue fits into one of these categories, the following may help:

Economic development – supporting and recruiting business that preserves rural lifestyle

Broadband is an economic development tool. A report by SNG found that ROI investment in rural Minnesota communities was $10 for every $1 spent. Those are good odds! Broadband will keep businesses in town – such as the $1 million business that stayed in Ada, MN because of broadband upgrade and the manufacturer that stays in Merrifield, MN because they have broadband enough to let their reps work from home. And broadband will attract business to your area. A medical school is opening in Gaylord, MN in 2018. Fiber access made that possible.

Farmers need more support

A USDA report from 2015 shows that farms are increasingly using the Internet. When the Broadband went to Farmfest (in 2015) , they heard farmers say that they were disappointed in policymakers for the decrease in broadband grants (grants were for $20 million in 2014, $10 million in 2015 and $35 million in 2016).  Rural areas get short changed because of the lower population density but for every farmer in a community there’s a $1 million impact – so ubiquitous broadband is viable. They talked about the need for broadband for drones and to transfer data to proportion nutrients to crops. Farmers need broadband to compete.

Rural areas are being ignored/unsupported

Rural areas are at an disadvantage. According to federal numbers – 10 percent of MN lacks broadband BUT 43 percent of rural MN lacks broadband. The grants will change that because the grants go to high cost areas. It’s important to note, however that 5G (wireless) is not a solution for rural areas. There are distance limitations on the signal and 5G requires even more wired infrastructure than current wireless standards. (Got dead zones now? That won’t change.) The Border to Border grants are a way to support rural areas – to keep them from being left behind – and they deserve the same quality connection that policymakers find in the Cities.

Healthcare – we need to drive down costs

Telehealth keeps people in their home longer. With remote monitoring, trips to visit the doctor are reduced – meaning less hassle for the patient, less time for the chauffeur (often a loved one who would take the time off work to do it) and less time for the healthcare provider.  A 2010 study conducted at Tufts Medical Center found that the cost of four days of in-hospital heart monitoring (~$25,000) could be reduced by up to 72% through the use of telemedicine and remote monitoring. – Tack that to the cost of uninsured hospital visits (According to the Department of Health and Human Services, uninsured families pay only about 12 percent of their full hospital bills. Leaving as much as $49 billion in unpaid bills a year.) and you can see how keeping people healthier and at home longer reduces costs for everyone!

The Mayo Clinic recently invested in a “patient-centric” electronic environment. It costs $16 million but is expected to save taxpayers $81.3 million over three years. Minnesota is one of only 4 states to participate in this pilot test!

Education – everyone deserves first rate education

Seven in ten teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. Kids without broadband at home are falling behind. School districts that know they can’t assign such homework are falling behind. Educational materials are moving online. Close to 90 percent of School IT leaders expect their instructional materials to be 50 percent digitalized within the next three years. That means reduced saving and interactive curriculum for schools that have sufficient broadband. The Legislature has talked about changing snow days into digital days. It’s an idea worth considering but only for communities with sufficient broadband.

Rural areas need help connecting the schools because it costs more to connect rural schools. The cost of connecting a school to broadband is not equitable. The cost per Megabit (Mb) of Internet access for Anoka-Hennepin schools is $0.73. In Braham, less than 50 miles north of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the cost per Mb is $11. In west-central Minnesota, the Herman-Norcross School District spends $58 per Mb of Internet access. Rural schools need help to close that gap.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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