Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that Le Sueur County has a lot of unserved places (in pink). They have been working on changing that. In fact, I think Le Sueur (in part) is to credit for doing such an amazing job with their local speed testing that has gone statewide! During the conversation I heard a lot of optimism and frustration. High level – there was frustration with reliability, data caps, access and digital skills. There was optimism with the increased attention broadband was getting because it was important in keeping life as normal as possible (school, work, access to healthcare) during the pandemic. A COVID silver lining, Le Sueur is using CARES funding to improve broadband use.
Thank you to the large group that joined us: Barbara Droher Kline, Shannon Frost, County Commissioner John King, Carl Menk, Ann Traxler, Susan Rynda, Janet Nordstrom, Marlene Johnson and Bill Coleman. They spoke about their work and personal experience – and many have positions to be thinking about the community perspective. Ironically, several attendees had broadband issues getting on the Zoom call, in part because we met during a thunderstorm.
There was frustration is reliability. Someone pointed out that they switched from CenturyLink to Mediacom for the speed but have found the connection to much less reliable. There’s a teacher who had experienced three outages in the last week 2 weeks before school even starts! I heard folks mention reliability more than I do in some other communities.
There’s frustration with limited access. Barbara mention folks with developmental disabilities living in community settings who don’t have sufficient broadband to work. John mentions that broadband has gone from a nice to have to a must-have. Everyone is noticing the need, even veterans that hadn’t felt that way before. Families really noticed this once the schools went online. They tried to support folks without access with hotpots but those don’t work everywhere. So the plan this year is to again have hotposts and also WiFi access in the school parking lot and via van that can go to various areas. Data caps are another frustration, especially for people in the county.
There’s frustration with digital skills. Shannon mentioned in lack of digital skills being a barrier to getting things done in the schools; it starts with the terminology and tech support.
There’s also a lot optimism about the increased awareness and interest in the need for better broadband and even the increased use. Carl and several other attendees brought up the power of being a BBC (Blandin Broadband Community). In fact, Le Sueur is the first COVID community to go through the program, which means where previous communities met in city halls, church basements and coffee shops – Le Sueur met online with Broadband coach Bill Coleman. While they clearly miss the opportunity to interact in person, it sounds like it’s going really well. Ann brought up the opportunity that broadband brings to equality to the community.
The County Commission meetings have gone online. Sue spoke about how healthcare are moved online – thanks to quickly learning and waivers and there’s great hope that the waivers will continue moving forward. Half the staff love it and love the privacy; the other half are struggling. My favorite observation came from Janet, who noted that using broadband because of COVID is better for introverts.
Le Sueur County is looking at using CARES funding to improve broadband use so there is a direct impact. So even if broadband hasn’t been a universal help to handle COVID, COVID has been a help to getting better broadband.