Pandemic shows that “access to high speed internet is … essential” in Minnesota

The Minneapolis Star Tribune posts about the situation for rural areas without broadband during the COVID19 threat. Many readers will be familiar, maybe too familiar with what this looks like…

Three-quarters of the Rebarich family sat parked under the golden arches of the local McDonald’s, focused intently on their electronic devices and almost basking in the speedy Wi-Fi.

In the passenger seat, 14-year-old Colton donned headphones while drawing musical notes on an iPad for his school choir class, caramel frappé sitting nearby. In the back, 11-year-old Kaitlyn talked on a video conference with her math teacher. Their mother, Nancy, sat in the driver’s seat checking her e-mails and doing some banking on her phone. …

For the Rebariches, getting a reliable connection means making a 15-mile trip into Virginia from their rural Embarrass, Minn., home almost every day — sometimes twice a day — for hours at a time so that Colton and Kaitlyn can best keep up with their classwork. While they have always been annoyed with a patchy cellular internet connection available at home, the global pandemic has exacerbated their plight.

Some communities are coming up with solutions, but even when they work they are temporary…

In many rural areas, schools are getting creative about bringing internet to their students, too, whether it’s by beaming Wi-Fi into school parking lots, providing Wi-Fi on school buses that deliver food to students on their rural routes or sending home mobile hot spots.

Fourth-grader Michael Zakrajshek has a school-issued hot spot and iPad at his rural Chisholm, Minn., home. But cellular service is so spotty among the tall pines and birch trees surrounding his house that he and his mother, Tawnya Heino, often end up taking the devices to the end of their driveway in search of a better signal.

Often it’s expensive, especially for what the customer gets…

Nathan Redalen, who lives about 11 miles south of Rochester, said he pays about $95 a month for internet but has trouble FaceTiming his grandchildren through an iPad. When his daughter, Kelly Young, came from California to spend time with her parents, she had to rent a co-working space in town to work remotely because the internet wasn’t fast enough.

Redalen, a retired county employee who owns beef cattle and is a township director, said he didn’t think he’d have to rely on internet.

“But it’s getting to the point where we could sure use it,” he said. “We’ll get on [the computer] and here we’ve got messages from four to five days ago that we never could receive.”

We need to make better plans to serve rural Minnesota…

Any steps taken to address connectivity problems during the pandemic will only help make things more equitable for the future, broadband leaders say.

“For our office and the administration, digital equity is such a high priority,” said Angie Dickison, broadband development manager in the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. “We rely on it now more than ever.”

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, MN, Rural 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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