First day of buffering … buffering … buffering

Education NewsFor many districts across Minnesota, today is the first day of school for K-12 students. This is always an exciting time — for the kids, of course, but also for parents. So much hope and anxiety balled up in one occasion.

With all the anticipation over locker combinations and seating arrangements, kids don’t share the same concerns as adults. They trust that parents will figure out a way to keep the lunch accounts full, replace worn-out clothes, and check off all the items on the back-to-school supply list.

But there’s an element often overlooked by kid and parent alike: internet access. Sure, there’s plenty of computers, tablets and internet bandwidth at school — but what’s available at home is hugely dependent on where the family lives and their household income. Though hardly the only example, this is where disparity often produces lack of educational and economic opportunity over time.

Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) held a rural broadband forum with state and local leaders in Duluth. What struck me as interesting was the way in which the issue has boiled down to some pretty important points: This is no longer about individuals accessing the internet for communication purposes; it’s about whole businesses and families dependent on reliable access to fast, affordable high-speed internet. In short, the internet is a utility now.

Forum News Service reported on Franken’s roundtable meeting in a Sept. 3 article by Don Davis:

“To me it is the rural electrification of this era,” Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., told experts on the subject he gathered Thursday in St. Paul. “If you go to rural Minnesota … if you are not wired there, it has all kinds of implications.”

Franken and others at the roundtable said providing the Internet through fast broadband connections is even more important than wired telephones and electricity.

Students without adequate internet connections are left behind, former state Rep. Denise Dittrich, now with the Minnesota Association of School Boards, told the gathering. “For every child now to have access to a high-quality education requires technology.”

“It is as important as textbooks,” she added.

The response, it seems, continues to boil down to the obvious problem: cost, but also lingering efforts by wireless providers to prove that their service is as viable as fiber optic lines to the home. The cost issue is the biggest challenge regardless, and until wireless services figure out a way to offer as much bandwidth as cable providers for a similar cost, their arguments ring hollow.

In working on this issue for some time — both as a public advocate and as someone working behind the scenes with community efforts to attract broadband to my own area — I see some basic truths. One, the solution can take any form a community or state wants. Two, this issue is one in which private and public sectors are willing and able to cooperate with great success.

On this first day of school, remember this isn’t about something for nothing. This is about our nation’s response to changing technology, reimagining¬†our education and economy. This is about a challenge that we have the power and resources to meet with the proper amount of ingenuity and cooperation. Most importantly, this isn’t about my internet or even yours — it’s about meeting the needs of young people who are counting on us to build the bridge to their shared future.

 

Comments

  1. I just got back from an extended trip to visit my daughter who live in a very modest rental house in a very modest neighborhood in California. Lovely scenery, terrible drought, amazing internet broadband speeds. It was often 10x to 15x faster than I have at home in rural Minnesota. And that speed is many times faster than I had a few years ago. And my ‘net at home cuts out or slows way down off and on. My use is “recreational” presently, but my husband is beginning to use it more and more for his work, to avoid having to stay at work longer in the evening, if some work isn’t finished. Now and then it is out for a couple of hours. What is it that civic leaders don’t understand about having a service that runs efficiently?

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