Reliable Internet Access in Rural Minnesota More Important Than Ever

Benton County wants to know how digital infrastructure works for residents.

And answers matter, at least as much as almost any other infrastructure project undertaken today.

Benton County has sent out two short surveys to residents and businesses to let them know how well the internet offerings that serve them work in the real world. And when it comes to internet service, the world got very, very real in March 2020 when huge swaths of business, all schooling, lots of college courses, most church services, lots of commerce, and quite a bit of business. of socializing have gone digital overnight from bedrooms, home offices and kitchen tables, thanks to the pandemic.

If there ever was a system that underwent a live stress test, it was Internet service for the past two years. So now is the time for Benton County (and other governments) to ask how it went.

Here’s where Benton County residents and the businesses that operate there can weigh in on the current state of web traffic. At the link (www.co.benton.mn.us/674/Benton-County-Broadband) are two surveys. The one for residents asks how they get their Internet service, from which company, what they pay and what they use it for, among other things.

The survey for businesses asks how Benton County’s digital infrastructure is weathering an era of remote working, remote customer service, broadband communications and the demise of landlines.

And in the interest of collecting data besides opinions, there is a speed test link that anyone can use to see and report exactly how their internet service is performing.

But the 2020-2021 biennial allocation was $ 40 million, the most to date but not enough to help local governments and the private sector level the digital playing field for all Minnesotans.

All of this to say that if you live in Benton County, please take the surveys. If you live elsewhere, please ask your state legislators to prioritize establishing excellent broadband service throughout Minnesota.

Minnesota has set a statutory broadband speed target of 100 Mbps download / 20 Mbps download by 2026 – for all Minnesotans.

The Governor’s Broadband Working Group recommended in 2018 funding of $ 70 million per biennium to ensure widespread minimum broadband Internet access at speeds of 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps through the program. Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant.

But we know that 25/3 Mbps is largely insufficient to support reliable remote work, schooling, or even streaming. The way to elevate that goal to a more realistic point is to participate in a survey like the one being conducted by Benton County.

What was once considered a luxury is now more essential than ever. The Internet isn’t just for fun and games, it’s what we use to work and learn every day. We have managed to bring electricity and telephones to rural areas with government help (think of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936). And as far as we’ve used it in the past 18 months, a reliable, fast internet has shown it to deserve some level of public funding.

The future is here. It runs on the web. And if the web works reliably and quickly in our rural communities, we – the people who live here, the kids who learn here, and the businesses who choose to serve here – are less likely to be left behind.

– That’s the opinion of the St. Cloud Times Editorial Board, made up of news director Lisa Schwarz and content coach Anna Haecherl.


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