Broadband is a rural issue highlighted during pandemic: Sen Westrom hopeful about legislative funding

The Wahpeton Daily News reports on the need for better broadband in rural Minnesota during the threat of COVID19…

Nearly 92 percent of Minnesotans have access to broadband internet, however, that means 8 percent are without. With schools, libraries, offices and public spaces closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, people without internet access are being left behind.

“The idea that parts of rural Minnesota have limited or no broadband access most definitely puts some of our citizens at a disadvantage in a time when internet access is crucial to a family or business’s wellbeing,” Wilkin County Commissioner Chairperson Dennis Larson said.

Larson is a member of Minnesota Rural Counties (MRC), a group that focuses on issues that pertain to outstate Minnesota. MRC has recognized that the majority, if not all, of Minnesotans who do not have access to broadband are in rural areas of the state. This troubling impact is felt by students who have difficulty participating in distance learning, workers who can’t work remotely and people unable to connect with friends and family during a period of isolation.

And the optimism of Senator Westrom in legislative funding for broadband…

The unexpected change to virtual classrooms and offices has shined a light on the severity of lack of broadband access in rural areas. Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), who represents western and central Minnesota, is an advocate of legislation that would provide $30 million in funding for border-to-border expansion of access to the internet.

“The proposal this year would be another $30 million investment into rural broadband. We are hopeful we can find additional dollars towards this great program that is really important for economic development in rural Minnesota. Rural broadband is like the electricity of today and Minnesota is leading the way with the rural program that I continue to support and we want to continue to do what we can to help make sure rural broadband is available across the state,” Westrom said.

The need is real…

“Without taking anything away from the need to mitigate the immediate health and economic impacts of COVID-19, while also recognizing nearly one-in-five rural residents are being asked to shelter in plae until further notice with virtually no access to adequate internet service, we urge Gov. Walz and state legislative leaders to consider broadband funding as a priority this session and sustain that funding until state speed goals are met,” [MRC Chairman Paul] Gerde said.

 

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Policy and tagged 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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