Broadband Isn't Just Nice; It's Essential

From Morris Sun Tribune by Dave Horning

I want to thank State Representatives Paul Thissen and Paul Marquart for visiting Morris to discuss our region’s lack of access to broadband internet.

Since 2013, after being connected to members of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, I’ve been working with other small business owners and rural Minnesota residents to increase awareness of the needs of rural communities, especially increased access to the internet for schools, homes and business. We’re a pretty bipartisan bunch, and keeping rural Minnesota a great place to live is our main priority. I believe there is an important role that our government can play when it comes to increasing the web connectivity of rural residents today and making that connection affordable so we can compete with the rest of the state.

Rep. Thissen and Rep. Marquart have already proven their commitment to that challenge, by passing the first $20 million in border-to-border broadband grants, which are making it possible for Federated Telephone to expand internet service to much of Big Stone County.  They also pushed to increase funding this year, but that push was stopped by House Republicans who not only didn’t want to fund broadband expansion, but wanted to abolish the office of broadband development completely. All while our state had a $2 billion budget surplus.

Now, Rep. Jeff Backer is encouraging communities to apply for broadband grants, even though Republicans invested $0 in broadband grants when they passed their Jobs and Economic Development bill out of committee. And the final $8 million they included for broadband after harassment by their opponents, isn’t even enough to cover the cost of one of the projects like Big Stone County.

I think that’s wrong.  Broadband isn’t just nice, it’s essential.  Now and in the future, Minnesotans won’t be able to do business, raise a family, apply for work, or get the medical attention they need, without a connection to the internet. I think those future generations need to ask folks like Rep. Jeff Backer why he voted for bills that didn’t have adequate money for broadband in them, and how he plans to connect rural residents to the internet, when telecomms and cooperatives can’t afford to do it without government help.