Well, really — who could possibly be opposed to “freedom”? So I guess I should be glad when I see Annette Meeks and the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota helping me to understand how government-sponsored rural broadband projects are a threat to my freedom (“The evidence is in: It’d be better for government to butt out,” Opinion Exchange, Jan. 21). But I’m just not feeling all that “free” in regard to my broadband internet providers. Where I farm in rural Minnesota, we’re lucky to even have broadband, and when we do, the service is often bad and the business practices predatory and expensive. In Minneapolis, same story: for practical purposes, monopolies — every one more bait-and-switchy than the next. If you don’t like your service, go to the competition. Only there isn’t any.

But this piece isn’t really about principled internet access at all. “Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain!” Once again, it’s the usual well-cloaked web of foundations tightly organized to support far-right causes, and this is a piece of very smart, libertarian, small-government propaganda. Go to the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota website, and you can’t find out who they are. A little research will show their links, as a “watchdog bureau” of the Franklin Foundation, itself hidden behind a donor-advised fund with its members redacted.

But let’s put the politics aside and ask ourselves how we’re doing with CenturyLink or Xfinity. How’s monopoly business practice treating you? And how’s it compare to what you saw in South Korea, Denmark or Scotland? Koreans talk about our internet as “a trip to the country,” finding it crude and slow. Which it is. Fiber-optic cables stretch across the wild moors of Scotland where there are more sheep than people. And we’ve got DSL. If we’re lucky.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s a place for government helping the people, and not asking whether it “pays for itself.” Are your roads paying for themselves? How about those sidewalks? The fire department? The police officers? It’s a brave experiment when the government of the people tries to provide internet for the people. Of course it may fail. It’s going up against The Big Guys, and a web of think tanks and propaganda writers hard at work protecting their freedom to charge you all they want.

Robert L. Brown, Minneapolis

• • •

The Jan. 21 article on rural broadband tried to show that Lake County misspent millions of dollars in building a high-speed fiber-optic network that would have been more cheaply done privately.

Lake County is the fifth-largest county in the state, with just 4,600 households in an area that would span from Chaska to the Wisconsin border and from Cambridge to Shakopee for a population of 11,000 people plus schools, hospitals and businesses.

The goal was to provide fiber to every location in the county that had electricity. In urban areas, the fiber was strung on utility poles, and elsewhere the fiber was buried in our rocky and stony glacial soils, crossing rivers, streams and bogs.

Places that did not have phone service now have fiber. There are areas not served by traditional landline or reliable cell coverage. The phone company in Two Harbors did everything in its power to stop the project by declaring that it owned about half the utility poles in its service area. Every effort to accommodate this company was rebuffed. When licensed installers were finally able to string the fiber, the phone company insisted on changing how the fiber was strung, even though it was done according to state code.

This project is analogous to the Rural Electrification projects of an earlier era. Sometimes the “I got mine” policies of the Freedom Foundation must take a back seat to the responsible policies of serving the whole population, not just the convenient parts.

Thomas V. Koehler, Two Harbors, Minn.


It creates many problems, which wealth-sustainment doesn’t top

The Jan. 18 commentary by Megan McArdle (“America faces the challenges of replacing itself”) was egregious in its dismissal of the critical problems associated with population growth, its fearmongering about how an aging population threatens retiree pensions, and its narrow focus on population-based solutions. McArdle wrongly states that population growth is slowing. It has been rapidly increasing. It took 5 million to 7 million years for the world population to grow to 1.6 billion by the end of the 19th century. It took only 100 years for the population to quadruple during the 20th century. Today’s population is over 7 billion.

McArdle states that only “a certain type of environmentalist” welcomes slower population growth. My guess is that readers of the Star Tribune see the associations between overpopulation and the paper’s daily reports about destroyed habitats, rising global temperatures, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets and increased extreme weather events. They know that global climate change, a consequence of human-generated consumption, also contributes to population-level violence, immigration and disease spread.

McArdle’s narrow concern — funding retirement pensions — is temporary (demographic age shifts will continue to occur), nonfatal, and resolvable through economic policy. Funding Social Security and Medicare will be minor concerns to the elderly, who will be particularly vulnerable to climate-related shortages in food, water and safe habitats; extreme weather events; and political, social and economic disruptions. McArdle’s maligning population control to fuel a discussion about immigration obfuscates the contribution of reproductive control to our survival. Creating any fear about people voluntarily limiting the number of children they have is irresponsible and wrongheaded.

Wendy Hellerstedt, St. Paul


Simply put, it sends a message we shouldn’t want to send

In her Jan. 18 counterpoint (“Further discussion on medical aid in dying”), state Sen. Chris Eaton wrote: “Anyone who has sat at the bedside of a slowly dying loved one knows that the deterioration of the body with an intact mental state is its own kind of suffering.”

As someone who accompanied her mother through the final years of life with Parkinson’s disease, I agree. But I disagree with the conclusion that the appropriate response to this suffering is helping the sufferer commit suicide. We should alleviate or accompany that suffering, not eliminate the life.

In the 2017 case of Myers vs. Schneiderman, 11 disability-rights organizations filed an amicus brief opposing New York’s effort to legalize assisted suicide. They argued:

“By asserting that it is irrational for a non-disabled person to end his or her life, but rational for a disabled person to do so, appellants argue that the disabled person’s life is intrinsically less worthy of state protection than a nondisabled person’s life. …

“Central to the civil rights of people with disabilities is the idea that a disabling condition does not inherently diminish one’s life; rather, stereotypes, prejudices, and barriers preventing assistance with activities of daily living do so. In contrast, assisted suicide gives legal force to the idea that life with a disabling condition is not worth living.”

The suffering Eaton describes is everyday reality for many people with disabilities. What are we saying to such people when we argue that such suffering justifies facilitating rather than trying to prevent suicide?

Elizabeth Schiltz, Minneapolis