Rural Minnesota needs State help getting enough broadband to weather the pandemic and beyond

Faribault.com runs an editorial from Vince Robinson, chair of the Minnesota Broadband Coalition, looking at what sheltering in place looks like for communities without adequate broadband…

Giving our children a high-quality education has long been a tradition in Minnesota. Now that our children are not at school, we’re seeing a digital divide between those who have broadband and those who do not. Some schools are more able than others to shutter and employ e-learning solutions. It is simply not a viable option for every district in the state. Even though students have connectivity at school, some do not have adequate bandwidth at home to receive and send online curriculum assignments or projects. Students without access are at a distinct disadvantage from students who have access.

This divide is also present in health care. Connecting 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, health care providers can treat more patients and give them access to specialists in health care hub sites.

All across the state farmers are getting ready for planting season. Whether big or small, farms are modern businesses that need broadband to access markets, potential customers and real time information about weather patterns. 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.

And he offers the Legislature some recommendations in how to level the playing field…

Significant portions of the state — especially low-density rural areas — lack broadband services and have no practical way to get them. The business case just isn’t there for private providers to justify investing all on their own. In response, the Legislature created the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. It is the premier program of its kind in the country and known as the “Minnesota Model.” It requires a public-private partnership that addresses unserved parts of the state by targeting grants to areas without service.

The Legislature allocated $40 million in last year’s biennial budget to the grant program. However, the Office of Broadband Development received grant applications totaling $70 million. That leaves a $30 million funding gap in the current biennium that needs to be addressed before the Legislature adjourns this year. Significant investment of at least $70 million per biennium in the future is necessary to ensure Minnesota reaches its goal of connecting all Minnesotans on time.

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

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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