As Katie G. Nelson reports for the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald-Review, Iron Range lawmakers are taking a decidedly unenthusiastic stance on a bill that would fund new broadband infrastructure in Minnesota.
On one hand, there is acknowledgement that $25 million is not enough to extend broadband to unserved regions of the state.
“As much money as that seems like if you look at the actual costs to build out a broadband system — I think it’s a drop in the bucket of what we need,” said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia.
But on the other hand, Range lawmakers like Metsa and State Sen. David Tomassoni also express concern that the bill would provide too much funding to urban areas and not enough to “truly under-served” communities.
I suppose I get that, but I don’t get why the perfect has to be the enemy of the good. Maybe I was just too distracted by this section of Nelson’s story:
Metsa added that northeastern Minnesotan residents don’t always need high-speed broadband for Internet daily use, and that many residents would be happy with basic connectivity and the promise of future upgrades.
“Your average home consumer up north is happy they can stream Netflix, watch a Youtube video, share videos on Facebook with your family, that’s probably the typical use,” he said.
It’s tempting to think about rural broadband as an issue related to the way people watch movies, YouTube and play around on Facebook. Many people use the internet this way, and we tend to focus on what we know.
But what if I told you that state K-12 and higher education initiatives are pushing more online education? It dominates nearly all the conversations in my field when it comes to the “the future.” What if I told you I work every day with students who live in rural parts of northern Minnesota who have to fight like hell to get their class materials to download? What if I told you that we’re doing a speech in my class this week and that some students are going to take an “F” because they can’t get their speeches to upload?
What if I told you that people who make money producing content and transmitting creative works surrender jobs and valuable time to live just a few miles outside Iron Range cities?
If every member of the legislature had the expense and data caps for high speed internet that my rural neighbors and I have, this would have been addressed years ago. It’s time to stop thinking about the internet as a plaything and recognize that broadband internet is a utility and an economic factor in our future success.
The Star Tribune editorial board gets it. And they’re from one of those cities.
I ask Iron Range lawmakers to lead on this issue, not follow, and not just complain about the imperfection of bills they played little role in developing. I ask rural Republican lawmakers to lead on this issue, and understand that the private sector stands to benefit greatly from this public investment. In fact, business-friendly lawmakers can play a crucial role in encouraging private sector investment so that this doesn’t have to be a state-only project.
But the investment must come, in one form or another. Those regions whose leaders fail to lead will fall behind.