Addressing U of M students’ broadband needs is a top priority

The (University of) Minnesota Daily outlines the problems many students have getting online during the pandemic…

For University students heading home, broadband access across the country varies widely. State broadband maps show patchy coverage, especially in rural areas.

In a recent University survey with more than 1,000 responses, 2.5% of students said they had no internet, and 21% said their internet was only reliable sometimes, said University Associate Vice Provost for Student Success LeeAnn Melin.

Melin said addressing the basic needs of students is a top priority. With new weekly meetings addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and a transition to one-on-one remote advising, she said the colleges are doing well with supporting students. The University’s technology help page also has a list of up-to-date resources for students.

Additionally, 4.4% of survey respondents said they do not have access to a reliable computer. Melin said the University is working to lend those students computers so that there is not an associated fee that would affect their financial aid. The University will soon decide whether these programs will extend into the summer.

“How are we helping students be successful in this new world?” Melin asked.

As students move online, the same amount of internet traffic that used to happen at offices and homes has moved almost completely to residential areas since the start of the pandemic, said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance.

They spoke to Brent Christensen and Nathan Zacharias, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the need for greater support from the legislature to expand broadband in rural areas…

Increasing broadband access is an expensive undertaking, and other states have been modeling legislation based on Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Grant, Christensen said. The Border-to-Border Grant can provide up to 50% of broadband projects’ infrastructure costs, but many smaller telecommunications companies are still doing the work for free, Christensen said.

“I’m so proud of our members because we work in small rural towns,” Christensen said. “They’re working with their communities and identifying students and people in need.”

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