Boreal Corps At the Capitol’s Broadband Day On The Hill
By Sammie Garrity, Boreal Corps Editor
Grade 6, Great Expectations School, Grand Marais
Last updated: Saturday March 18, 6:59 a.m.
ST. PAUL, March 15, 2017 – Fast wireless connections and highspeed internet are modern services many people take for granted—we do in Cook County because we have broadband installed. But we’re unusual. Actually, most people in Minnesota do not have broadband (see slide show map above) or internet service they consider fast or reliable.
That was the point made over and over Wednesday at the Minnesota State Capitol during the state’s first-ever workshop focused on finding solutions to providing world-class internet service to everyone in Minnesota, no matter where they live, big city or “middle of nowhere,” as several panelists gave as an address. It was called “Broadband Day on the Hill,” sponsored by the Minnesota Broadband Coalition.
At right: Cook County residents at the Capitol in St. Paul. Danna McKenzie of Grand Marais, executive director of the Office of Broadband Development, walks through the Senate tunnels to the March 15 broadband hearing room with Boreal Corps Editor Sammie Garrity of Lutsen.
PRICING INTERNET SERVICE
Minnesotans are divided on the answer. But some at the March 15 workshop thought a simple 50-50-50 formula is best:
·For $50 a month
·No data caps
Not Just Nice, Necessary
The problem of access to good internet service is especially bad in rural Minnesota. As State Senator Thomas Bakk (DFL-Cook) put it: “These metro kids have such an advantage over rural kids with the internet resources they have.” Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith agreed. In the opening meeting she said, “It’s a matter of fundamental fairness. Highspeed, reliable internet is not just nice to have, it’s necessary.”
All sorts of people are affected by slow data speeds and limited bandwidth, according to panelists. There is a:
·graphic designer in Ely whose job suffered because she couldn’t upload large design files to clients
· a resident of Chisholm who considered moving because it was too frustrating to do her hobby of online gaming with slow internet connections
· a doctor who had to sit in his car outside of a McDonald’s to connect to the restaurant’s internet to read medical journals
·kids near Warroad who Lt. Gov. Smith said stayed on the school bus even after it reached their bus stop because it had wireless, which they needed to finish their homework because their homes didn’t have internet. “Imagine if kids in Edina or Eden Prairie had to stay on a bus to finish their homework…It’s just not fair,” she said.
Why Boreal Corps?
As editor of Boreal Corps, (the new kids’ digital media team of Boreal.org), I was invited to talk on a panel to explain how Cook County kids in grades 4-12 are using a new Blandin Broadband Innovation Grant that Boreal.org just received to actually create a newspaper: we use broadband to be creative and to connect our community.
This is a new message for legislators to hear – how kids really can do important work with the internet. We’re not just all about social media, playing games or listening to music. In the language of Wednesday’s Broadband on the Hill, we’re about “uploads.” Boreal Corps kids make stories and art that we upload to the internet. The internet serves our stories and art back in “downloads” to readers. We do this by using our imaginations, education, curiosity and digital media skills we are learning at Boreal.org. We are not just “downloaders” playing games or watching videos and Snapchats that other people make.
When I visited The Capitol, mostly everybody had the same thing to say: “We need internet and broadband for our work, and ourselves and for our kids’ education.” Some noticed a regular dip in service at around 3 p.m. when kids got home from school and everyone jumped on the internet and there wasn’t enough bandwidth to support all that use.
Fixing the Problem
Legislators in Minnesota are trying to fix this problem. One bill was introduced asking for $100 MILLION to make sure every community has the fiber optic cable and other systems needed to support highspeed internet connections like ours in Cook County. But legislators said it’s a hard problem because there are so many competing needs in the state for money. Sen. Bakk put it this way: “There is not a very good solution to the problem— there is a huge fight about how to meet the needs of the un-served and the underserved.” Rep. Rob Ecklund agreed, and said many people are working on a solution.
“No Bar” Lake
The realistic dollar amount of what broadband projects are probably going to get is, $30 MILLION in each of two years, 2018 and 2019 (total of $60 MILLION). That’s what Danna Mackenzie wanted, so a total of $60 MILLION in two years. To that, I say, “YOU GO GIRL!!!” And same to everyone else helping. All of them want “border to border” broadband internet in Minnesota as a way of giving everyone a fair chance to be connected.
At the meetings, wireless and fiber optics and copper cable were all debatable subjects. Some people said wireless won’t ever work well in northern Minnesota communities like Cook County where all the things we love are in the way of reliable wireless signals– hills, trees, lakes, rivers, rock cliffs, snow.
One woman who lives on Bar Lake said they call it “No Bar Lake” because their internet service is so weak. “Clear line of sight is everything,” she said.
One question came up that really struck me as interesting: “How can we encourage private investment in rural communities?” A panelist answered this question with a statement he had made before in the conference: “In 30 days something incredible in going to be available with Minnesota internet.” He also said lawmakers should give higher priority to businesses that use broadband to demonstrate and promote economic development.
Kids Should Visit the Capitol
When I met with Sen. Bakk (District 03) and Rep. Ecklund (District 3A), Mr. Bakk told a story of the time when 125 sixth graders came to the Capitol and sat in on some sessions. At the time, lawmakers were passing a bill to make fourth of July sparklers legal. Mr. Bakk was standing in the middle of the Rotunda when he asked the kids, “How many of you have held a sparkler before?”
He said that every hand went up.
He then proceeded to tell them, “Then you all broke the law! Until now, lighting sparklers were illegal in Minnesota.”
He recalled that a little girl raised her hand and asked, “Have you ever broken the law?”
Learn more! More to come soon at http://www.borealcorps.org! Also, we just got a shout out from an organization called Growth & Justice. Thanks G&J! They are working on fairness in internet access at the legislature by urging improving broadband service for all Minnesotans–you can read download their priorities at the Capitol below.