Minnesota can fund broadband AND electric vehicles

Twin Cities Business reports…

With the recent Senate passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, states are looking for what level of federal funding they might expect for their own projects. The Biden Administration released preliminary numbers last week, giving Minnesota a glimpse at projects it might be able to complete after final passage of the infrastructure package. Some big-ticket items were $4.5 billion for highways, $302 million for bridge repairs and $802 million to improve public transportation across the state.

In addition to those funds, the White House said Minnesota can expect to receive $68 million over the span of five years to “support the expansion of an [electric vehicle] charging network in the state.”

This is a relatively small investment compared to the rest of the cash Minnesota could receive, but experts say this would be a huge opportunity to get more Minnesotans to drive EVs and reduce their carbon footprint.

An interesting note from the article was Senator Dahms suggesting that broadband funding might be used to fund EVs…

[State Sen. Gary] Dahms pointed to broadband — another big infrastructure bill spending area — as an example of a state priority taking years to achieve and lagging behind in rural areas.

“We put a lot of money into broadband, I’ve been working on broadband for 11 years,” Dahms said. “In Minnesota, we still have areas that do not have broadband. But we spent a lot of money, we have spent a lot of money in the metro area and we have a lot of good reception of broadband there. Shift that to electric cars.”

Access to broadband is credited for drawing in new residents to help boost population

Duluth News Tribune reports on the impact of broadband on population shifts in Northern Minnesota…

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released data showing population changes over the last decade.

As a whole, the 11-county Northland region of Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin only decreased slightly, with a combined population of 431,134 on April 1, 2020 — down 171 people from the last Census conducted a decade ago.

As a state, Minnesota saw a population increase of 402,000 residents — up 7.6% — since 2010 while Wisconsin saw nearly 207,000 more residents — a 3.6% increase.

The Northland county with the largest growth as a percentage of population over the last decade came from Cook County, which grew by 8.2%, or 424 people, to 5,600. Bayfield County grew by 8% — from 15,014 to 16,220 over the last decade.

They credit broadband for being a draw…

Mary Somnis, executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority, said area real estate agents have been incredibly busy lately and credited the county’s access to “excellent” broadband for drawing people in.

“We have really good broadband and it’s really beautiful here,” Somnis said.

Meanwhile, the largest drop in population came from Koochiching County, which saw its population fall 9.4% — from 13,311 in 2010 to 12,062 in 2020.

It’s worth noting that as of last measure in 2020, Cook County ranking 14th (out of 87) and  Koochinching ranks 59th for broadband access.

Paul Bunyan Communications Opens Apple Service Center in Grand Rapids

It’s fun to see what the community can do with fiber …

Paul Bunyan Communications has opened a certified Apple Service Center in their new office at 510 SE 21st Street in Grand Rapids. The cooperative has been northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center for several years out of the Bemidji location.

The Apple Service Center provides both in-warranty and out of warranty service on Apple products and computer repair including hardware or software problems, spill damage, screen replacement, virus removal, upgrades, and accessories. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. -5:30 p.m.

“It’s exciting to open up another Apple Service Center. People rely on a lot of devices and when they don’t work properly it isn’t fun.  When that happens, we’re here to help.” said Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.

“We’ve built one of the largest all-fiber optic rural gigabit networks in the country that offers the fastest internet speeds available.  It will provide optimum performance for the devices our customers use but not if they aren’t working right.  Now they can bring them to our Grand Rapids Apple Service Center to get checked out,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

Word from Farmfest: “Broadband is crucial”

KEYC News reports on the first day of Farmfest…

Panelists also expressed the importance of broadband infrastructure, something Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D – Minnesota), who is participating in Farmfest virtually this year, is working for in the federal infrastructure package.

“It’s $65 billion and the money is to be used to get higher speed Internet and then to areas that have no Internet at all,” she said.

Broadband infrastructure is something farmers, like Perry Oftedahl, say is crucial.

“We need it out there in rural Minnesota. Farming has gotten to be so much precision agriculture, so there’s a lot of need for the iPads and cellphones the guidance systems are on. We need better connections out here,” he said.

OPPORTUNITY: Statewide Telecommuting Survey from UMN Extension

University of Minnesota is working on research related to telecommuting. Their work is important in helping us understand what we need and want in Minnesota to make best use of broadband. Help them help all of us by taking their survey…

“Have you wondered about Minnesota employers’ and workers’ experience of telecommuting before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic? The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is wondering the same, which is why MnDOT is partnering with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center on a research project to find out! And now, the project needs your help.

Make your and your organization’s experience count by completing the worker survey and the employer survey. Forward the survey links to your colleagues and friends, so their voices can be heard, too! All these contributions are vital to the project and much appreciated.

Mayo’s video visits up 5000 percent but how does that impact Rochester’s local economy?

The Post Bulletin reports

“We’re currently touching, caring for more patients on a given day now than they were pre-pandemic when you add in telemedicine activities, plus the patients coming on site for care here,” said Dr. Steve Ommen, a cardiologist and the medical director for experience products for Mayo Clinic’s Center for Digital Health.

Video visits skyrocketed more than 5,000% from 278 visits in February 2020 to 16,532 in December at Mayo Clinic-Rochester. Phone telemedicine visits also soared from 169 to 7,590 in the same timeframe, peaking at 24,670 visits in April 2020.

A looming question remains: How will this affect Rochester’s economy when much of the downtown and the largest private-public economic partnership in state history has been built with the presumption that many of Mayo’s patients will be visiting the city in person?

Sounds like the local economic developers aren’t too worried…

Holly Masek, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Alliance, said her team hasn’t specifically studied how telehealth use could affect the downtown. The general consensus is that there are enough patients traveling to Rochester for extended stays and more specialized care that businesses will not see a significant decrease in income because of telemedicine use.

There are pluses and minuses with remote working too…

Fewer Mayo Clinic employees are working downtown than before the pandemic, though telemedicine certainly can’t be pinpointed as the sole cause of this shift.

“Approximately 2,900 staff who were previously based in downtown Rochester will now work off campus a majority of the time,” Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Ginger Plumbo said to the Post Bulletin’s Jeff Kiger in early July. “This number evolved as Mayo Clinic continued to assess the workforce beyond the initial group of non-clinical administrative staff.”

The number went up from the 1,500 figure Mayo Clinic reported in October 2020.

It looks like the Mayo, more than the city, will need to look at the impact…

Preliminary studies from other healthcare institutions across the country provide a picture into how telemedicine use affects revenue. An April 2021 study by the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Pennsylvania found that the adoption of telemedicine services resulted in just a -.8% hit to the department’s revenue.

“Given that the nation’s health systems are operating on thin margins amid rising payment and cost pressures, the findings of our study underscore the need for thoughtful examination to ensure telemedicine is used and supported effectively and sustainably,” read the study.

Legislative changes makes it easier to offer and afford telehealth…

Legislation passed in June 2021 as part of the Health and Human Services bill made these changes part of law, not just part of the emergency powers declaration.

For Mayo Clinic campuses in Arizona and Florida, the number of patients receiving care via telemedicine may differ. Arizona recently passed similar protections to Minnesota, while Florida rolled back telehealth regulations passed during the pandemic.

Even if Mayo Clinic’s bottom line isn’t greatly affected by telemedicine use, the patient’s pocketbook may be.

A 2014 study found that the average estimated cost of a telehealth visit is $40 to $50 compared to average cost of $136 to $175 for in-person acute care.

Minnesota legislation regulates the cost of telemedicine services to not surpass what the in-person cost would be.

Research on Hiring Technologies of Large Hourly Employers

Upturn has an interesting study on the impact of digital expectations on hiring of hourly employees…

Most workers in the United States depend on hourly wages to support themselves and their families. To apply for these jobs, especially at the entry level, job seekers commonly fill out online applications. Online applications for hourly work can be daunting and inscrutable. Candidates — many of whom are young people, people of color, and people with disabilities — may end up filling out dozens of applications, while receiving no responses from employers.

This report provides new empirical research about the technologies that applicants for low-wage hourly jobs encounter each day. We submitted online applications to 15 large, hourly employers in the Washington, D.C. metro area, scrutinizing each process. We observed a blend of algorithmic hiring systems and traditional selection procedures. Many employers used an Applicant Tracking System to administer a range of selection procedures, including screening questions and psychometric tests. We augmented this research with expert interviews, legal research, and a review of industry white papers to offer a more comprehensive analysis.

We offer the following findings and related policy recommendations:

  1. It is simply impossible to fully assess employers’ digital hiring practices from the outside. Even the most careful research has limits. It is critical that regulators, employers, vendors, and others proactively assess their hiring selection procedures to ensure that all applicants are treated fairly.
  2. The current U.S. legal framework is woefully insufficient to protect applicants. Federal oversight is far too passive, and employers lack incentives to critically evaluate their hiring processes. Regulators must be more proactive in their research and investigations, and modernize guidelines on the discriminatory effects of hiring selection procedures.
  3. Major employers are using traditional selection procedures at scale — including troubling personality tests — even as they adopt new hiring technologies. Some test questions lacked any apparent connection to the essential functions of the jobs for which we applied, and they raised a range of discrimination concerns. Employers should seek to measure essential job skills, and discontinue the use of assessments that fail to do so.
  4. Employers rarely give candidates meaningful feedback during the application process. In our analysis, we received minimal feedback from employers — about the purpose of selection procedures, details of reasonable accommodations, or the final disposition of our applications. Employers can and should be required to offer more, so applicants can improve their prospects and vindicate their legal rights.

 

How to create The Minds We Need

The Minds We Need is a paper/movement/plan to help America be better and prepare for the future for everyone. It focuses on inclusion, innovation and competition. Here are their top recommendations…

To ensure inclusion, drive innovation, enhance competitiveness, and equalize opportunity we must:

  • Connect every community college, every minority serving institution, and every college and university, including all urban, rural, and tribal institutions to a world-class and secure R&E infrastructure, with particular attention to institutions that have been chronically underserved;
  • Engage and empower every student and researcher everywhere with the opportunity to join collaborative environments of the future, because we cannot know where the next Edison, Carver, Curie, McClintock, Einstein, or Katherine Johnson will come from; and
  • Ensure American competitiveness and leadership by investing holistically in national R&E infrastructure as a sustainable system.

Because the investment in R&E is coming I don’t mention much, I wanted to add their notes on that topic…

Our plan calls for a $4.989 Billion one-time investment to expand the nation’s research and education infrastructure, to be completed in three phases, extending R&E leading-edge capabilities to every community college, minority serving institution, college and university, enabling innovation while ensuring every college student is connected into an advanced digital fabric.

Awards in all categories should be prioritized to nonprofit R&E networks, tribal, and/or across all community colleges, minority serving institutions, colleges and universities, and university research-affiliated organizations that can then form partnerships, as appropriate, with private sector companies to implement the programs, with a goal of engaging our nation’s diverse system of 3,900 accredited, degree-granting higher education institutions.

Report finds strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth

Deloitte released a report that looks at Return on Investment in broadband. They look at advantages of faster speeds and the need to focus on adoption and affordability…

Today, the digital divide still presents a significant gap after more than $100 billion of infrastructure investment has been allocated by the US government over the past decade to address this issue. The current debate regarding additional funds for broadband deployment implies that further examination is warranted regarding how to get to broadband for all and achieve the resulting economic prosperity.

Quantifying the economic impact of bridging the digital divide clearly shows the criticality of broadband infrastructure to the US economy. Deloitte developed economic models to evaluate the relationship between broadband and economic growth. Our models indicate that a 10-percentage-point increase of broadband penetration in 2016 would have resulted in more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019, or an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs. Moreover, we found a strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth. A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186B more in economic output in 2019. The analysis also showed that higher broadband speeds drive noticeable improvements in job growth, albeit with diminishing returns. As an example, the gain in jobs from 50 to 100 Mbps is more than the gain in jobs from 100 to 150 Mbps.

The findings suggest further analysis is warranted before setting too high a threshold for broadband speeds (both uplink and downlink). Doing so could discourage investment in promising new technology that doesn’t yet meet predetermined thresholds but offers potential cost and rapid deployment advantages over today’s solutions. Furthermore, innovative solutions can help spawn a competitive broadband environment that improves affordability of broadband for all households. Overly stringent mandates on speed, on the other hand, run the risk of ruling out these innovations before they gain a market foothold.

Stakeholders should focus on several considerations as they move forward.

  • Place a renewed emphasis on adoption and affordability by ensuring consistent user experiences, analyzing trade-offs between delivering higher speeds and innovative new technologies, and seeking diverse solutions for unique, underserved geographies.
  • Segment underserved US geographies into more granular categories that recognize the vastly different coverage and affordability needs of underserved geographies.
  • Incorporate the expected growth in broadband consumption into future investments and programs by utilizing subscriber data (e.g., running an FCC speed test).

Bridging the digital divide will likely require public or private investment in the country’s communications infrastructure including both wireless and wireline. Regardless of the specifics of the investment, these guiding principles can help yield immediate gains in providing affordable access to underserved segments of the population and move the nation closer toward broadband for all and bridging the digital divide.

Rural areas need broadband to attract rural workers

New York Times reports

“How do you get young people to want to move back into these rural areas when they feel like they’re moving back into a time frame of 20 years ago?” asked Mr. Weiler, the company’s founder and chief executive.

Rural areas have complained for years that slow, unreliable or simply unavailable internet access is restricting their economic growth. But the pandemic has given new urgency to those concerns, at the same time that President Biden’s infrastructure plan — which includes $100 billion to improve broadband access — has raised hope that the problem might finally be addressed.

“It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35 percent of the rural America that still doesn’t have it,” Mr. Biden said of his plan in an address to Congress last month. “This is going to help our kids and our businesses succeed in the 21st-century economy.”

Mr. Biden has received both criticism and praise for pushing to expand the scope of infrastructure to include investments in child care, health care and other priorities beyond the concrete-and-steel projects that the word normally calls to mind. But ensuring internet access is broadly popular. In a recent survey conducted for The New York Times by the online research platform SurveyMonkey, 78 percent of adults said they supported broadband investment, including 62 percent of Republicans.

Businesses, too, have consistently supported broadband investment. Major industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers have all released policy recommendations in the last year calling for federal spending to help close the “digital divide.”

Defining broadband is an issue…

Quantifying that divide, and its economic cost, is difficult, in part because there is no agreed-upon definition of broadband. The Federal Communications Commission in 2015 updated its standards to a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second. The Department of Agriculture sets its standard lower, at 10 m.p.s. A bipartisan group of rural-state senators asked both agencies this year to raise their standards to 100 m.p.s. And speed-based definitions don’t take into account other issues, like reliability and latency, a measure of how long a signal takes to travel between a computer and a remote server.

The definition matters in terms of getting government support to improve access, but the definition doesn’t matter to the consumer. All that matters to the consumer is that it works…

According to the F.C.C.’s definition, most of Marion County has high-speed access to the internet. But residents report that service is slow and unreliable. And with only one provider serving much of the county, customers have little leverage to demand better service.

The area needs more workers, but new workers, especially younger workers, will not move to an areas without broadband…

Local leaders have plans to attract new businesses and a younger generation of workers — but those plans won’t work without better internet service, said Mark Raymie, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Future leader in Autonomous Vehicles? Grand Rapids MN!

Grand Rapids in on the cusp of being the first cold weather, rural community to deploy autonomous vehicles (AV) – maybe in the world! That’s pretty exciting but I feel like I’m burying the lead because there are so many good things included in this pilot project. Their focus is on access, especially for folks who cannot get driver’s licenses and becoming a hub for autonomous vehicles, starting with getting kids interested in trained in the schools.

I spoke with Myrna Peterson about the project. Originally from Iowa, Myrna moved to the area many years ago; she is a former teacher. She has been in a wheelchair since a serious car accident in the 1990s. She has unique experience understanding the need for accessibility and understanding the need (and how!) to get kids involved in educational opportunities that will lead to jobs. But of course she’s not doing the work alone. There are a host of project partners, including the Blandin Foundation, Mobility Mania, several economic development leaders, research and academic partners and private sector partners, such as May Mobility, the AV experts.

The plan is to create a 12-mile route to local hotspots, such as the grocery store, church, schools and communal living settings. The AV goes about 25 mph, so the path will stick to slower roads. (So smart to avoid annoying other vehicles driving on 169!) Broadband plays a role both in helping the AV’s with offloading (a lot) of data and connecting that data to the back office. It also allows riders to connect to the AV app to make reservations and otherwise communicate. The AV collects data in the environment and uses Multi-Policy Decision-Making system to as a brain to drive. (Learn more on the May Mobility site.)

The need for AV to collect data has opened a door to looking other use of sensors and spurred discussions with Smart North. Now the community is looking at smart street lights and tech hubs. The community is also making sure that the AV experience meets the needs of all riders, which means wheel-chair accessible, accommodating visual and hearing impairments and more. They are looking to not only be ADA compliant but to be comfort-forward and welcoming for everyone, which is how you get people to use the AV. There will be an attendant on the AV to make sure everything is going smoothly.

But as I mentioned, this goes beyond a ride. They are working with the schools to create programming and opportunities for students to learn more about AV, starting with a STEM camp this summer. They are working with the K12 schools, local colleges and are working to create apprenticeships. They are also planning to leverage the shuttle project to showcase the region’s innovative mobility program through Smart Rural Mobility seminars where the Grand Rapids community members will have an information sharing forum, and they will be empowered to share their mobility stories with other government leaders and technology companies.  So, not only will Grand Rapids be the first cold weather, rural AV community but the people in and from the area will be leading experts. It’s an opportunity for a whole new industry cluster.

EVENT May 8: Appapalooza 2021, a live-pitch event for girls ages 10-18

Technovation[MN] sends an invitation

We are back! Technovation[MN] is excited to host Appapalooza 2021, a celebration and live-pitch event for girls ages 10-18 who have worked hard to build mobile applications to make an impact on their communities. Appapalooza is Technovation[MN]’s largest event, bringing teams of girls, their mentors, judges, the Minnesota tech community, volunteers, friends, and family together to celebrate, support, and nurture a future diverse technology workforce pipeline. Come to have fun, celebrate and be inspired. Registration is now open!

Team YES wins Overwatch 6v6 Tournament at GigaZone Gaming Championship 5

Some fun news in a tough week from Paul Bunyan Communications

The first of three consecutive weekends of GigaZone Gaming Championship 5 was held Saturday, April 10 with the first tournament, Overwatch 6v6.

Team YES won the Overwatch 6v6 Tournament and the top prize of $1,800.  Team YES team members are Kelly Whipple, Kylie Elliott, Tien Nguyen, Connor Broderick, and Coby LaCroix from Bemidji and Isaak R Smith from Deer River.

Second place and $1,200 went to The Clean Up Crew with team members Thomas Berge of Bemidji, Ethan Hunt and Ewan Newbold of Pine River, Tristan Jourdain from Red Lake, Jacob Peterson from Red Lake Falls, and Kohl Belgrade-Gotchie from Akeley.

Third place and $600 was won by ISSA Team with team members all from Bemidji including Tristan Lawrence, Naziah Matt, Devon Rainey, James Jones, Matoskah Veaux, and Dakota Veaux

In addition to the Overwatch tournament, there were door prize drawings throughout the day and the CosPlay Contest started accepting entries.  Madden 21 is the featured tournament this Saturday, April 17 and Super Smash Bros is the featured Tournament on Saturday, April 24. The tournaments are free to play and open to anyone who lives within the 218 area code but registration is required at www.gigazonegaming.com  Anyone interested in either tournament should register now before they are full.

“What an incredible job our team has done in pivoting to a virtual event his year!  I’m very proud of all the hard work and dedication put in to provide these three weekends of online gaming fun for the region.  I hope everyone gets the chance to check it out over the course of the next two Saturdays,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

This one-of-a-kind regional gaming event is free to play or watch and is being held virtually due to the pandemic.  It showcases Paul Bunyan Communications’ IT and web development team which custom built and integrated much of the online technology to make the virtual event possible.  The event leverages the speed of the GigaZone one of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the country and the entire event is run off a single residential GigaZone Internet connection.

“The GigaZone provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience and the GigaZone Gaming Championship showcases just that,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.

This Paul Bunyan Communications event includes the talents of many local partners including NLFX, Accidently Cool Games, Northern Amusement, as well support from several regional and national partners.

For more information on the GigaZone Gaming Championship visit www.gigazonegaming.com

MN Report on Automated Vehicles mentioned 10 year investment in fiber

Transportation Today reports on the Minnesota Gov’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles 2020 annual report…

The Minnesota Governor’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles said in its annual report Monday that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the state was able to move forward toward readiness for Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV).

Also…

The report noted that the state was able to test new cellular vehicle communications technologies that connect snowplows and avoid collisions by preventing red-light running. Additionally, the Advisory Council completed a 10-year investment plan for fiberoptic cable that will support CAVs and broadband and conducted the nation’s largest CAV survey to determine the attitudes Minnesotans’ have about CAVs.

I was interested in the 10-year investment in fiber so I checked out the report. Here’s what I was able to find…

  • Fiber and broadband: MnDOT, MnIT and Department of Employment and Economic Development are completing a 10-year investment plan for fiber optic that supports CAVs and broadband. The state also met with the private telecommunications industry to understand their broadband expansion goals and learn how to partner in future pilots.
  • Connectivity & Work Zone Safety: The FHWA granted Minnesota funding to test connected vehicle work zone safety applications. With the FCC ruling, the state is also looking into new cellular connected vehicle technologies, including those being piloted in Ramsey County in Roseville. DEED, MnIT and MnDOT are also partnering to deploy fiber and broadband in key areas of the state to advance CAV and rural connectivity goals.

I remember that MnDOT, MnIT and DEED had a broadband commission a few years ago that, as far as I knew, did not have public meetings. I don’t know if they are still around and I think it only included the commissions of each department. I also don’t know much about the 10 year investment in fiber and I wonder why the MN Broadband Task Force doesn’t factor that into the plans to get everyone connected.

St Cloud reader thinks broadband is for folks who can afford it – and a few counter points

St Cloud Times posts a letter from a reader…

I personally think it’s unnecessary to spend state tax money on the internet so everyone has a chance of using it. I disagree with [Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake] comment about how it’s important for every citizen to have good and reliable internet. I think that those that deserve it need to work for it, and should be able to pay for it themselves.

I understand rural areas have higher likeliness of poor broadband speeds but that’s partly due to the fact that people cannot afford to buy it themselves. Money for the broadband should be going towards other projects, so there can be better management around the home.

Once this COVID nonsense blows over, students will be back in schools and able to use the networks the districts provide. This can be looked at as motivation to get back in the classrooms and stop being so afraid of the “modern flu.”

I haven’t seen a response like this in a few years. I wanted to offer what I hope are constructive reply options:

There’s a hole in the bucket

Remember the song – There’s a hole in the bucket? I’ll recap: Henry finds a hole in the bucket. Liza says fix it. After much consternation, Henry say he can’t fix it because he can’t get the water he needs to do the job because he needs the bucket to get the water. Broadband isn’t a reward, it’s the means to become economically more solvent. Conservative report say households with broadband enjoy $1850/yr in economic benefit – but I’ve seen that number go as high as $10,500/yr. Broadband is a means to further education, provides access to more jobs and just access to learning about more jobs.

Only as strong as the weakest link

I spoke with communities last summer about how they were able to survive the pandemic shut down. Rock County has almost ubiquitous broadband. So when schools moved to distance education, they had minimal effort to ensure that all households had the connectivity and computers, which means teachers could teach online. Kanabec County, on the other hand has spotty coverage. There are areas where even the mobile hotspots were not reliable. The issue was not household affordability – it’s availability. School was different for them. Teachers had to teach online and prepare paper packets for kids without access. Whole communities were held back because some households  didn’t have access.

Uneven playing field

In urban areas, the market takes care of the broadband expansion. Companies can make money building and serving broadband to customers because there are so many darned people in Minneapolis and St Paul. That’s how a company like US Internet can charge $50/month for 300Mbps connection! It is difficult to make as much money in a rural community because there are fewer people and the population density is much lower. (Population density in Ramsey county is 3,064.9/sq mi and it’s 1.6/sq mi in Cook County.) There are some rural counties with amazing broadband. It is usually because they have a cooperative broadband provider but when there’s a commercial provider the incentive is not there to upgrade. Cooperatives aim to meet the needs of their members; commercial providers aim to make money. (Even when profit isn’t the primary aim, providers still need help to deploy better broadband.)

We all pay when someone doesn’t have broadband

Finally, government services are often cheaper when people can access them online. One timely example is the COVID at-home tests; cheaper, safer and easier for everyone but you need broadband to do it. But it’s also true for healthcare, telehealth saves money. Reducing the cost of government services, reduces the needs for taxes. It’s a dated story now, but in 2012, Mayo announced expected savings of $172.8 million for taxpayers as a result of the $60 million investment. These economic benefits don’t stop with government. Businesses benefit when customers are online too – especially in the last year. Communities where customers could order online were in a better place to shift sales rather than lose them.

To think that broadband is only for those who can afford it is short sighted. Broadband is not a luxury, it is a necessity. In 2011, the UN declared it a human right and just a few weeks ago, a survey showed that 68 percent viewed broadband as a utility and 77 percent thought it was essential to achieving the American dream. By definition, the American dream is not just for those who can afford it.