Yesterday (March 12, 2020) was MN Broadband Day on the Hill. It was also Mental Health Day on the Hill. But the topic of the day was coronavirus. It changes how we greet each other (elbow bumps), where we sit and dominates every conversation. And it was clearly a cornerstone in the supplemental budget announcement made early in the day…
Responding to growing economic alarm, Gov. Tim Walz released an updated budget proposal Thursday that leaves most of a projected budget surplus unspent and plows extra money into health and natural disaster response.
Walz said he would shore up the state’s budget reserve fund with a nearly $500 million infusion and leave more than $1 billion unspent.
“Caution, caution, caution. If there was ever a time for a one-page budget and leaving money on the bottom line, this is it,” Walz said, adding that having a “rainy day” fund and solid budget are his priorities.
Broadband is essential to policies suggested to combat spread of coronavirus require broadband – telehealth, telework, online learning, moving government services online – you name it but broadband funding was not part of Governor Walz’s supplemental budget. As a former reference librarian I recognize an unfunded mandate coming when I see it. I remember when tax forms moved online to save on paper. People came to the library; unfortunately the libraries didn’t have an increase in computers, staff time, increased hours or ironically the paper for patrons to print out forms to mail in!
Broadband cannot be an unfunded mandate because even at speeds of 25/3 Mbps only 84 percent of rural Minnesota has wireline broadband. A pandemic solution is only as good as its weakest link and we can’t leave 16 percent of the state in the dark ages.
So, I’m going to start a series (Broadband in the time of coronavirus) to help policymakers realize that broadband really is a prerequisite to making social distancing possible and integral to making it feel less draconian. People need health, education and work – but people need people too and I’ll try to show how broadband makes that possible.