Tom Friedman’s latest column in the New York Times takes a look at how we can invest in America to help give young American’s the skills and tool they will need to get beyond the Coronavirus debt. He lists three things; broadband makes the shortlist…
Expanded high-speed internet connectivity everywhere, but particularly in rural America, so more people can participate in the innovation economy.
And he backs that up with using Red Wing as a model community…
But let’s not stop there. Let’s also create tax, regulatory and funding incentives for every community — but particularly the many underserved rural communities — to install high-speed broadband and fiber to the home.
“Building fiber infrastructure all across heartland America ensures that high-paying jobs can take place anywhere,” explained Matt Dunne, executive director of the Center on Rural Innovation, and it makes the whole country “more resilient to future pandemics and climate change-related weather events that require children and workers to stay home.”
High-speed internet basically enables anyone anywhere to get training for a better job, often at low to no cost, from online universities or YouTube instructional videos.
And if you connect them, they will invent. I traveled with Dunne in September to Red Wing, Minn., south of Minneapolis, to see the creative ways in which small towns were investing in rural broadband to build gigabit networks that support high-tech start-ups and local manufacturers.
My favorites were two Minnesota inventors who came up with a robotic chicken/turkey coop cleaner. It patrols the poultry house for dead birds and tills the bedding, but with an unexpected byproduct: The birds exercise more and are healthier, because they are constantly running away from or pecking at the robot. It also decreases the pecking order, so fewer birds are picked on and shunned. Mortality decreases and money is saved on feed and medicine. It’s called the “Poultry Patrol.”
And its inventors were “doing their prototyping in the region because farmers there have fiber to the home,” said Dunne. “While the robots work autonomously most of the time, there are significant periods when they need to be remotely operated and receive coding updates from afar, which is only possible with very fast broadband.”
What Dunne proposes is that the federal government create a new loan program, reminiscent of the Rural Electrification Act, which would offer 50-year, no-interest loans to communities and co-ops creating rural fiber broadband networks and an easing of regulations to enable public-private coalitions to build rural broadband and attach high-speed fiber to existing telephone poles.
This connectivity would also promote another enabling platform we need: manufacturing from anywhere through a network of open-source maker spaces. This, too, requires less government funding and more inspiration and imagination to show people what is possible.