Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Lac qui Parle (LqP) County is served. They rank third in terms of county coverage (99.57 percent) at speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.
The county is well served because the County and Farmers were awarded a $9.6 million ARRA award in August 2010. Pam Lehmann was the Director of the Economic Development Authority at the time and instrumental in that project. At the same time, they outfitted a small commuter van with computer and internet access. The Computer Commuter. Ten years ago it was all the rage and folks may remember it. It is still making the rounds, mostly helping seniors make better use of technology.
So it was fun to talk to her today about whether broadband has been help or hindrance in dealing with COVID. It’s a help!
Pam works with small businesses and does recruitment for healthcare. The effort to move businesses online has not been difficult. For some businesses it was a matter of choosing a higher tier service than they currently use but is fiber installed so the upgrade is easy.
Having broadband has made it possible for Pam to connect with state and federal funders quickly, which in turn has allowed the community to get COVID funding. What took a few hours to download and process would have taken days before the upgrade. Although as Pam says, it’s hard to remember because they take the connection for granted now.
Many businesses have allowed people to work from home. Business owners note greater productivity this year over last! For Mainstreet businesses, it’s been a matter of getting creative with offering new services – like a lunch to pick up instead of a meal at the café. Knowing that the business and the customer have great broadband has made that easier.
Great broadband has helped with recruitment too. The healthcare facilities have been hiring and have been holding all of the interviews online. It’s not the same as having someone come to town but, especially in the healthcare industry, you don’t want people coming from their hospital to fly to LqP to local hospitals; so adequate broadband for video interactions have been a potential life saver. And one of the big questions is recruitment is how to make the family and partners of employees happy. Increasingly they are finding that the partner of the healthcare professional can keep their old job and work online.
The schools has planned on in-person classes this year but when the middle school had a case of COVID and the high school flooded due to a construction incident, they are now (temporarily) online. They send no paper packs home. They all sign on. At Pam’s place, which is a farm, she has two adults working on laptops, two kids working on Chromebooks and half a dozen devices all going at the same time. No hiccups or slowdowns.
For healthcare it’s the change in reimbursement and other waivers that have made life easier. That and the impetus for many people to just start using Zoom and other technologies. The comfort level for using technology has increased since COVID but the means to use it has not.