Small Business and Broadband Congressional Field Hearing in Scandia

Today, the Subcommittee on Contracting and Infrastructure Connecting Families, Connecting Businesses Connecting America met in Scandia to talk about Small Businesses and Their Limitations without Reliable Access to Rural Broadband.

I tried to livestream but the cell coverage wasn’t enough to keep the video going and there was no wifi access. I’m going to upload what I captured as a demonstration of need. I was using my phone. The meeting was more than an hour long. The video archive is 11 (noncontiguous) minutes long because that’s when the cell coverage was adequate to livestream.

I did try to take good notes. (Below.) Local folks talked about the need for better broadband. At the end of the meeting, an audience member jumped up to talk about Scandia’s work trying to get better broadband. While the four testifiers had great examples of why rural areas need broadband to survive – this woman gave voice to the need for access at speeds of 100/100 Mbps! I was able to capture her in full. (The difference between livestream and record – although tough to record 60+ minute meeting on a phone.)

Intro from Chair Golden

Congressman Stauber – thanks people for testifying and to elected showing up.

Small Business Committee works in a bipartisan way to get things done. In 2018, 85% owned a cell phone and 98% used the Internet. Small business needs reliable and affordable access. Small businesses that use technology are three times more likely to create jobs and make a profit. 24 million Americans lack access to broadband. In MN 400,000 people lack access to broadband – most in rural areas. 99.9 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband. 68% of rural Americans have access.

Large telecoms have no interest in serving rural areas. So smaller providers have been stepping up – but they need government support. They need more help. And that will likely happen in an upcoming infrastructure bill.

Testifiers:

Adam Arts, real estate agent in Blaine

People run to the government for everything – but some things fall through the cracks like internet access . Internet is no longer a luxury. Lack of access to a common denominator for failure. I have kids who went to high school. One graduated in 2009 – and the Internet has not changed since then. Kids are frustrated. They cannot engage and excel. We need to put our kids in a position to win.

As a business owner, I need broadband. 9 out of 10 times, people ask about internet access first when buying a house. People will buy a smaller home for more money to get broadband. I can’t upload pictures from my house. Downtown (North Branch) is OK but anything outside that area is hurting. Our industry revolves around the electronic signature.

Negative impact builds. Lack of broadband will have an impact on business and family – means rural communities are in decline. It’s a reason that some towns are shrinking.

Housing in the Twin Cities in too expensive for many people. Housing is affordable in rural areas but without broadband no one will buy.

We have a remote vehicle in Mars, but I can’t get broadband in North Branch.

Mark Johnson, ECMECC

Small business are the life blood of small communities. People need broadband to communication. Businesses need an educated workforce.

People are less likely to move to an area without broadband. Education suffers without home access to broadband.

Business in our area need to downtown for video conference calls. They can’t do that from offices in the outskirts.

We live in a digital world. Learning takes place in and out of schools. We can’t leave 20 percent of our students behind because they don’t have broadband. We have some districts where that percentage is closer to 50.

We do have mobile wifi for students. Chromebooks have been most impactful for our district.

MN partnership for collaborative curriculum is digital open resources for grades 3-12. Made available to schools at no cost. They have the potential to replace textbooks – where people have broadband access.

Schools find ways to make due – mobile wifi, wifi on buses – but those solutions only work where there’s cell coverage. It’s hard to have e-learning days (aka snow days) – when teachers and students cannot access broadband. So schools in some districts cannot take advantage of e-learning days.

We need real broadband to make rural living viable.

Greg Carlson, Cambridge Presbyterian Homes (Eldercare)

Everyone wants to be home – from Elvis to Dorothy Gage – with broadband people can live longer in their homes. We can reduce acute care with remote monitoring, regular screening and online health management tools. It leads to better patient outcomes.

10 percent of health is driven by our health system – it’s real where we live, what we do and our genes.

There’s great potential in mental health and addiction services. But we need the infrastructure in place. We can monitor everything from room temperature to how often the fridge has been opened. Alerts can be set up when patterns are broken.

Physicians need broadband access for their job – including at home. They need to access and maintain medical records.

Mark P, Bulltear Industry (custom machining)

I train folks how to use CNC machines – including many with disabilities. After a spinal injury on the job, I learned to take my machining background to online engineering. The internet allowed this to happen. We built and sold online.

Unlimited potential for growth. We stumble through our day with limited broadband. We pay $300/month for 10/10. We have a monopoly provider. We have dropped calls. We have to reboot our modem at work and home continuously. I thought I was alone until I talked to our neighbors. They have the same trouble.

I’ve seen businesses close for lack of broadband – or move.

Communication between people makes communities. We compete with the world now. In many ways business is cleaner, smarter and better. We need faster internet to do it We need to download training videos and upload customer videos.

Questions:

Q What speed would you like to have?
If we were starting now, we wouldn’t do it here. You use more bandwidth as you grow. We need increased broadband like we need land to grow.

Q Will you stay here?
My heart is here so we’ll stay here.

Q: Is there a workforce shortage?
Yes!!

Q: Do people leave the area?
Last year North Branch worked with the Design Team. We went to the school to talk to kids. We asked – what would keep you here? They said – affordable housing and opportunity and that’s not there without the Internet. And you need opportunity for spouses. It directly impacts the real estate industry.

Q: What are differences that are connected vs schools that aren’t?
Most schools have 1-to-1 initiatives – and that becomes their hub for learning. That’s not possible without broadband. You need to work with the lowest common denominator. Where they have broadband, they can do flipped learning. SO the student watches a video at home and class time is spent doing the work .

Q: What broadband speed do you need?
The FCC says broadband is 25/3. It’s the upload speed that’s an issue – especially for healthcare and education.

Q: Tell us about the importance of connecting with family online esp for seniors?
Again 10 percent of our health involves the medical industry – 90 percent is quality of life. Staying connected keeps people happy and healthy. Older adults shy away from technology, until they realize it’s a connection to others.

Q: “When my wife was deployed, access via Skype for me and our kids was essential.” Stauber.

Q: So you wouldn’t start a business here if you started now?
We moved here to raise kids. We moved for affordability. We’re in a different boat now. We need broadband to flourish. We couldn’t do what we do with lesser broadband.

Q: In real estate, people ask about broadband connectivity?
People don’t want the house if they can’t get internet access. It’s not an option for kids, or adults. It’s not even an issue of price.

Congresswoman Craig: I grew up in rural areas. I know how hard it can be. We have a cabin and have often had to cut weekends short so that kids could do homework with internet access.

Q: Moving healthcare to an outcomes based system requires broadband. Talk about that.
Addiction issues, issues with police, mental health – the need to intervene is critical. For example, a person might go to treatment and come home to no support. Being online provides an opportunity for remote support. The likelihood for transgressions is greater without broadband.
In the schools we have mental health issues. Counselors in rural schools are shared between buildings and towns. Online counseling could reduce travel time. And kids with access at home have that opportunity for support that doesn’t existing for those who don’t.

Q: What else would help a business in rural MN?
We’re in a rural area between the TCs and Hudson. The only thing holding us back is an OK from the county and broadband.

Q: When we get broadband to everyone it will unleash an new entrepreneurial wave.

Congressman Hagedorn – my small town has changed. IN the last 6-7 years low commodity cost has hurt and diminishing need for people as agriculture gets automated. Rural areas have taken a hit. If we don’t’ have people, nothing else matters. We can’t attract people without infrastructure. It’s a quality of life issue.

Q: What speeds do you need for telehealth?
The CAF programs built to 10/1 – that doesn’t do much. It won’t allow for a video conversation.

Q: We need better mental health care for vets – seems like telehealth could help.
If you’re a vet, you need to go to the care facility. That can be a long drive. Telehealth would flip the paradigm. We need services where people are at.

Golden: The FCC mapping doesn’t paint the picture. Even the idea of 25/3 is not consistent. I know for me I can get that at midnight but not during the day. We need consistent and reliable broadband.

Stauber: Making sure that rural business matters. At some point, the government decided that everyone would get US mail. At some point every mailbox mattered. We need to make the investment.

This entry was posted in Conferences, MN, Policy, Rural 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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