This week, the Benton Institute tells the story of one of Minnesota’s most tenacious broadband champions…
Barbara Drӧher Kline thought she knew what she was getting into when she moved halfway across the country and bought a 1890s farmhouse in rural Le Sueur county, Minnesota. Contractors advised her to tear the house down, but she loved a fixer-upper, especially after she had refined her remodeling skills on her previous home in California, a redwood log cabin near San Francisco.
Drӧher Kline wasn’t scared by a rural lifestyle either. Both she and her husband, John Kline, had roots in the state, and he had grown up nearby.
The plot twist was something even HGTV had not prepared her for: slow internet.
The internet service provider for her new home, Frontier Communications, offered outdated technology with frequent outages and notoriously poor customer service.
Barbara has been very active as a Blandin Broadband Communities champion, a speaker at various Blandin and other local events and she was on the last iteration of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force. We are glad she is here. Her lack of good broadband has helped her help her new community but it is frustrating to imagine moving into a new place, albeit a fixer-upper and funding inadequate broadband…
“We just assumed there would be something…we lived in a canyon in northern California, and we had a bunch of different options there,” she said.
Realtors are legally required to disclose lots of information to prospective buyers, like whether the house runs on a septic tank or certain potential hazards like flooding or earthquakes. Internet, however, is less regulated than other fields.
It turns out realtors are the MLS housing database only reveal whether a house can get connected, not if the connection is any good. Realtors and home buyers are interested in changing that…
Among surveyed realty associations in Minnesota and California, realtors agree that the MLS should provide more ways to disclose information about a home’s internet connection but are hesitant to call for another mandatory field.
Across the board, realtors emphasize the shared duty of homebuyers and realtors to avoid assumptions and ask informed questions throughout the process.
After trying various options and getting engaged, Barb found a solution for help herself…
She struck a deal with Bevcomm: she would pay $2,700 of the cost to extend service to her home and the company picked up the rest, an estimated $3,000 – 4,000.
“We were that close, so we could afford to do it, and now it would be double that. Most people can’t afford to do that,” she said.
But she’s used her experience to help others in the community…
When she ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018, poor internet was one of the bread-and-butter issues that motivated her, and something her neighbors echoed.
While she lost the election, a tide started to turn, at least in her county. Individual requests like that of Drӧher Kline became fodder for a larger public-private partnership between Bevcomm, Le Sueur county, and the state. As part of that deal, and many other similar projects, Bevcomm contributes roughly 25 percent, the state gives 50 percent of the funding, and the county covers the rest, said Bill Eckles, the CEO of Bevcomm.
Barb continues to work on it…
With the advent of a state broadband grant program and the recent influx of COVID-19 relief dollars, Eckles said Bevcomm has seen fewer calls from neighbors like Drӧher Kline, and more counties that come forward with proposals of their own.
But Drӧher Kline is still worried about the math. Now she sits on the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, where she’s working to change the funding formula to lower the burden on taxpayers and encourage more companies like Bevcomm to serve rural counties like hers.
One thing Barb wanted me to help clarify, she is not opposed to state and federal tax investment in broadband – it’s the burden of property taxes.