MN Broadband Coalition Update: Action Alert: Broadband in the Time of Coronavirus

An update from the MN Broadband Coalition…

Action Alert: Broadband in the Time of Coronavirus
Good afternoon everyone!  We hope you and yours are doing well, all things considered.
You may have noticed that there has been an uptick in news articles discussing access to broadband as it relates to school and business closures and healthcare. We are glad that people around the state are, perhaps, beginning to see what has been clear to the Coalition for a long time: there are still thousands of homes and businesses in the state with no access to broadband, and many others who are underserved by their current service.
As Coalition members, you or your organization may be approached by news outlets our journalists who want to speak about broadband access in your community. We are asking that if this happens, please refer all press inquiries to Nathan Zacharias: nathan@zachariasgovrelations.com We have assembled a group of area experts from our Coalition to cover inquiries related to education, healthcare, ISPs, economic development, agriculture, and businesses.
In addition, we’ve come up with a series of talking points for you to use with legislators, local officials, or in op-eds to your local paper. You can find them below. Most importantly, we’re asking everyone to stay positive with their message. We have an opportunity to continue to educate Minnesotans about broadband, let’s make sure everyone is on the same page.

Please write an op-ed for your local paper in addition to speaking with your legislators.

Sample Letter—Remember to Personalize!
As schools and businesses continue to shut down across the state, we are being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. But the reality is that thousands of Minnesotans still don’t have access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet.
Giving our children a quality education has always been a priority in Minnesota. Now that our children have been asked to stay home from school, we’re seeing a digital divide between those who have broadband those who do not. Some Minnesota schools are more able to close and employ e-learning solutions than others. It is simply not a viable option for every district in the state. Even though students have connectivity at school, some do not have connectivity in their homes or adequate bandwidth to receive and send online curriculum assignments or projects. Students without access to quality broadband are at a distinct disadvantage from students who have access.
This divide is also present in healthcare. Connecting rural hospitals with their patients via tablet or other smart device is next to impossible if the patient does not have access to the high-speed broadband and technology that drives telehealth services. With increased broadband and a robust telehealth program, rural healthcare providers can treat more patients working with specialists in healthcare system hub sites. We’ve been told “stay home if you are sick.” Broadband would allow you to not only work from home but to receive care from home as well.
The current pandemic has proven that broadband is no different than any other basic service that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives. We need to do everything we can to ensure border-to-border access.

Area Experts

  • General:  Nathan Zacharias; Vince Robinson
  • Education: Steve Giorgi, RAMS
  • Healthcare:  Mayo Clinic
  • Agriculture:  Stu Lourey, Farmers Union
  • Providers: Brent Christensen, MN Telecom Alliance
  • Businesses:  Doyle Jelsing, Neighborhood National Bank
  • Economic Development: Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County EDA

General

  • The Coalition is made up of a very broad representation of public, private, and non-profit entities that reach across agriculture, health care, economic development, local government, business and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  We have all come together with a common goal of achieving Border to Border Broadband.
  • COVID-19 is showing us in real time how important access is for ALL Minnesotans.
  • We need broadband to stay connected to each other, to do business, to grow our food, to educate our children, and to deliver healthcare. Broadband has become an inextricable part of our everyday lives and all of our citizens are entitled to it.
  • More and more we are being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. The Coalition is uniquely positioned to help the rural communities we serve in Minnesota identify the gaps in coverage and work with other stakeholders to ensure Minnesotans have reliable access to all the benefits and tools that broadband provides.
  • We should not confuse short-term “fixes” with long-term solutions.
  • The Coalition continues to work with the Governor and Legislature on a long-term solution, which we believe is continued funding of the Border to Border Broadband Grant program.
  • The current pandemic has proven that Broadband is no different than any other basic service that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

Healthcare

  • Connecting rural hospitals with their rural patients via tablet or other smart device is next to impossible if the community or patient does not have access to the necessary infrastructure to host the level of technology that drives telehealth services.
  • Telehealth doesn’t work without telecommunications, and the benefits of broadband extend beyond remote patient care when investments are made in the necessary technology.
  • We need the infrastructure to drive data centers, which can allow providers in small practices and large health systems to communicate with one another.
  • Strong broadband in rural communities leads to strong economic development for all industries including health care. In order to recruit rural health care physicians and other professionals, a community needs a strong telecommunications network for quality of life as well as access to telecommunication and internet-based jobs. With greater connectivity, more people will see benefits in living in rural communities, which, in turn, hospitals and clinics will likely see more patients, both in-person and via telehealth means.
  • With increased broadband and a robust telehealth program, rural healthcare providers can treat more patients working with specialists in health care system hub sites.
  • Without reliable healthcare, these communities are even more at risk of fading away. It’s imperative that we embrace and invest in broadband capabilities to connect with more patients remotely to keep our communities healthy and thriving.

Education

  • Some Minnesota schools are more able to close and employ e-learning solutions than others, it is simply not a viable option for every district in the State. Even though students have connectivity at school, some do not have connectivity from their homes or adequate bandwidth to receive and send online curriculum assignments or projects.
  • Not all schools in the state have undertaken one on one device distribution to their students. Many utilize devices in school but recognize the limitations rural students have so do not depend on iPads or Chromebooks for homework assignments.
  • Students without access to quality broadband are at a distinct disadvantage from students who have access and we need to invest in rural broadband expansion to close that divide and ensure all students are provided with the same 21st-century educational opportunities.

Business

  • Reliable and uninterrupted upload speeds are necessary for production. Businesses require the 2026 speed goals of 100 Mbps by 20 Mbps to accommodate the large data files they receive and send.
  • Rural businesses often lack affordable broadband options.  In order for business to continue and grow in rural areas they require fast, reliable and affordable Internet.
  • Whether they are able to work from home, run a small business, or are selling products online, broadband enables entrepreneurs to increase their household income.

Agriculture

  • For farm families, being connected via quality internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
  • Farms, big or small, are businesses. And broadband internet connects them to their markets, real time information about weather patterns, potential customers, and other resources that are essential to running a business in a competitive marketplace.
  • Right now, many farmers are still storing grain—broadband helps them get up-to-the-minute information on markets so they can manage risk and get a better price.
  • Looking ahead at planting season, the internet also helps them better track and predict weather patterns.
  • Broadband can help farmers source parts and trade old equipment so they’re better prepared for the growing season.
  • In Minnesota, many of our farmers are competing in an international marketplace. And too many of them aren’t on a level playing field if they’re not connected via broadband.
This entry was posted in MN, MN Broadband Fund Awards, 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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