Tech infrastructure only the first half of the battle

In recent years I’ve advocated high speed internet infrastructure as one possible way to diversify the Iron Range economy and move us past the local dependence on natural resource industries to provide jobs. My reasoning, in truth, sounds more like faith than fact. I have faith that with high speed, world class communication capabilities, and good marketing(!), we can convince people who have the option of living and working anywhere that northern Minnesota and the region in and around the Iron Range is a great place to live, with lakes, trees, interesting towns and good schools.

But this is only part of the fight yet to come. The technology, the intricacies of which would baffle most folks, including myself, is something that can be contained, encouraged, and grown through a combination of federal or state initiative and private industry investment and profit. That’s the part that we can possibly predict. The next part, however, is how we use the capability. This is something totally unknown.

There are two main problems with the rural/Iron Range high speed internet conundrum: usage and access.

On access, social class, education and income again enter the equation as they always do through history. People who have more education and a reasonable income (lower middle class or better) are very likely to thrive with new technology and internet access. Low income people with less education are less likely to use or benefit from such technology. They can and will, but not right away. This is a growing problem on the Iron Range and in most other places in the Rust Belt. Mashable recently highlighted a Pew Research study showing how income disparity influenced internet usage.

On usage, same problem. If an area isn’t already an internet haven, it will go through a predictable, moderately ugly phase in transition. The Boston Review has an interesting story on what has happened in poverty-stricken areas that invested in “telecenters” as a solution to their economic ills. In truth, such places attract low income men who seek entertainment and adult content. Oops. That’s not the goal, is it? The truth is that internet access is only useful as an economic tool if it is combined with education and a society open to new kids of businesses that use the internet. The emphasis, as will be the case here for decades, should be how living in northern Minnesota is interesting, attractive, and unlike any of the typical options in American urban, suburban life.

In this issue, as is seen in Iron Range history, we must again play for generational goals, not immediate results. We must create a system by which the children of people who live here succeed, benefit, grow businesses and accomplish human goals.

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)


  1. I won’t dispute the research that links lower incomes with less access to the ‘net and other forms of media. BUT I always cringe a bit when I read this sort of thing because I’ve always known people who were definitely low income because they decided to be self employed, either doing a manual skill or something that grew out of their education.

    These may be precisely the sort of people who would benefit first and more from higher speed internet. I can think of two people near me who ARE indeed making their living using the ‘net for their businesses. They’ve had to make do with whatever type of access they’ve been able to get, which currently is a step up from satellite internet, as I’ve mentioned to you before, but I don’t want to put the name of the company in this forum.

    These are also the sort of people who help drive improvements because they are willing to pay more for the ‘net then the casual user.

    But it is too bad that higher speed ‘net through the phone company in my area seems to be dependent on WHO one is or has for a neighbor. The tourist-y parts of my area get fast and cheap internet, but those of us here year round have to pay 2 – 3X as much.

  2. i agree with the first comment in south florida the tourist parts get cheaper and were everyone that lives here is so high!!! check out my site

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