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Serving: MN
close up of wifi router Paula Mohr
ACCESS FOR ALL: Virtual meetings are commonplace in the days of COVID-19. The practice is making it clear who does and who does not have access to high-speed internet access.

Let’s finish the task of connecting Minnesotans

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of high-speed internet for all.

By now, most of us have had plenty of virtual interaction via our electronic devices. The Minnesota FFA State Convention took place online this week, featuring an app that alerted you to upcoming sessions. The week prior, finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way were selected virtually.

If there ever was a time to highlight the need for high speed internet connection, it is now. More people, organizations, businesses and governmental units are demanding we need internet connectivity for all.

 

Many are comparing it to the 1930s when most city dwellers had electricity and rural America did not. The federal government stepped in with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 that provided low interest loans to rural residents so they could create electric cooperatives and build facilities and infrastructure to provide power.

Millions of dollars from national and state sources have funded efforts to create and bolster virtual connectivity in Minnesota. Through USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program, Minnesota received $11 million for projects in the southeastern part of the state in 2020 alone. Minnesota’s agriculture budget bill that Gov. Tim Walz signed last year included $40 million in one-time funds for the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program in 2020 and 2021.

During this legislative session, state lawmakers discussed bills in the House and Senate that would create a long-distance learned broadband access program and invest another $10 million in the border-to-border program. However, lawmakers ended the session without agreement on the COVID-19 Economic Security Act, which contained the broadband provisions. There is hope they will approve some form of the bill when they convene in special session June 12.

One bright spot? Land O’Lakes Inc. and some of its rural retail-owners have offered temporary free and open WiFi access to local residents within the co-op’s coverage areas. In Minnesota, the free WiFi hotspots are available in Belgrade, Darfur, Maple Plain, Melrose, Pine Island, Trimont, Waconia, Waldorf and Winthrop.

According to the Broadband Now, a national website that allows consumers to compare internet service providers in their area, Minnesota ranks 20th in the U.S. for broadband access. You can learn more about the state’s coverage, right down to specific cities and service providers, by visiting Broadband Now.

State leaders continue to pursue the broadband goal that all Minnesota businesses and homes will have high-speed broadband download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least three megabits per second, and by 2026, all will have access to at least 100 megabits per second for downloading and 20 megabits for uploading.

According to data gathered by the state, more than 90% of Minnesota households now have access to broadband at speeds 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, the 2022 goal, and nearly 75% have access at the higher speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

To help guide broadband development, state governors Mark Dayton and Tim Walz appointed 15-member task forces during their terms that would research, recommend and promote state broadband policy, planning and initiatives.

At present, the task force has two openings, of which one position is open for a tribal representative. Even though the official application date has passed, applications were still being taken as of May 19.

Want to help the state determine remaining broadband goals and policies? Apply now online.

It’s past time that all had high-speed internet access. Let’s continue to push at state and national levels to get the job done.

TAGS: COVID-19
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