Apolitical, a global network for government and nonprofits looking to make a difference, recently wrote about broadband as a tool to save the countryside. The spoke to Blandin Foundation’s Bernadine Joselyn about the issue..
“We had a conference a couple of years ago where young people from the state told the audience that they would never consider living in a rural area that didn’t have 21st century broadband.”
This is how Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation, a not-for-profit in Minnesota that works to bridge the digital divide, describes the worldwide problem.
They point out the huge difference in population growth between rural and urban..
The countryside is emptying. Ever more people are leaving rural towns and villages to head to the city. Since 1960, the world’s urban population has grown almost four times faster than the rural population: while the rural population grew by 69% between 1960 and 2015, the urban population ballooned by 297%.
And Bernadine spoke about how we tackle rural broadband in Minnesota..
Rural broadband is often touted as a means to meet this demographic challenge. “Broadband infrastructure allows for the diversification of the local economy. It allows you to attract and retain knowledge workers and home-based entrepreneurs,” said Joselyn. “Everything’s better with broadband. Everything’s better with better broadband.”
The Blandin Foundation helps rural communities apply for state funding to build broadband services. While it lacks the resources to fund the broadband installation itself, it coordinates the feasibility studies rural communities use to access the millions of dollars in state funding they need to build them.
For Joselyn, one of the main obstacles to building the broadband connections that could help rural economies thrive is a lack of investment. “Rural areas are so sparsely populated that the return on investment is not there,” said Joselyn. “That’s why they don’t build in rural areas. You need investment to build infrastructure where the return on investment doesn’t meet the requirements of a for-profit investor.”
When internet service providers (ISPs) provide broadband to densely populated areas, they get an immediate return on investment — with rural areas, the return can take 20 years. “That’s why in Minnesota we need public dollars added to the pot,” said Joselyn. “In order to give providers an incentive to build where they otherwise wouldn’t.”