The world is not backing away from broadband investment, so why would Minnesota?

Opportunity should not be limited by ZIP code. When it comes to broadband access, every community, every person, matters.

Alice Topness matters. At age 77, Alice spends her mornings connected to other seniors via a virtual exercise class in Winona.

Eddie matters. An aspiring coder at age 14, he shares his Ojibwe culture by creating mobile apps to inform and educate others on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Kristin Fake matters. After overcoming her initial skepticism about how the Internet could help her Akeley home-staging business, Kristin is now connecting with new clients online, boosting her annual sales. She also has helped others in her community tap the power of broadband.

These are everyday examples of how rural Minnesotans — like all Minnesotans — depend on the Internet for their livelihoods and quality of life. But while broadband is now widely acknowledged to be the indispensable infrastructure of the 21st century, too many Minnesotans still lack access, and too many rural communities do not yet have broadband service that meets our state goals. More than ever before, rural communities need access to high-speed Internet in order to survive and thrive.

This is absolutely not the time for state leaders to back down from supporting DEED’s new Office of Broadband Development and its broadband grant fund. The signals from St. Paul recently have been very troubling.

At Blandin Foundation, we believe that broadband access — and the skills to use it — are fundamental to healthy, resilient communities. For 13 years, we have stood with Minnesota leaders as they rallied their communities to design and claim vibrant, broadband-enhanced futures. We have invested more than $4 million dollars of our own resources in support. We share the hope and confidence of the nearly 6,100 homes, 83 community institutions and hundreds of businesses statewide who will benefit from the $19.4 million in grant funding allocated by the Office of Broadband Development to ensure that no Minnesota community will be left behind.

There is more work to do. More than one-fourth of Minnesota households still lack broadband access that meets our state’s broadband goals.

For communities, especially rural communities, to fully realize the potential of the digital economy, all hands need to be on deck to bring broadband border to border. From the prairies of eastern Minnesota to the timber-covered communities of northern Minnesota, the farm fields of southern Minnesota to the aisles of our State Capitol — we all must lift our heads and see how competitive rural economies demand connected rural communities.

If we can agree that strong rural communities are vital for a strong Minnesota, the issue of ensuring adequate broadband access for all Minnesotans deserves more than a one-off response. Leadership on broadband, such as through the new Office of Broadband and its programs, must remain a Minnesota priority.

Legislative leaders must press on. And communities themselves must continue the hard work of education, awareness and broadband adoption.

 

Dr. Kathleen Annette is president and CEO, Blandin Foundation.