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Broadband project teeters on brink; Kandiyohi County officials still hopeful

Editorial: Minnesota needs to invest in broadband

For all their campaigning in 2014 on the importance of rural Minnesota, House Republicans in their budget proposal have chosen to invest $0 for the state's broadband assistance program.

This is very disappointing for everyone in rural Minnesota.

Rural Minnesota will continue to fall behind in broadband access and, in turn, the critical factors of quality of life, education, economic opportunities, access to health care and many other positive benefits.

"We are astonished as to why the House would ignore one of the state's biggest economic development needs," said Willmar City Council member Audrey Nelsen, a member of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities' board. "The lack of high-quality broadband affects communities and regions all across the state."

We agree.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, doesn't think so.

He said that wired broadband, which provides high-speed Internet connections, is too costly in sparsely populated areas.

Apparently Garofalo believes rural Minnesota is just out of luck in the need for critical high-speed Internet access to the information highway.

If you don't think this is an issue in west central Minnesota, think again.

Kandiyohi County is third lowest in Minnesota, at only 13.18 percent, in the percentage of households with access to broadband that meets state-speed goals.

Surrounding counties with low access percentages include: Chippewa at 24.47 percent, Yellow Medicine at 25.69, Swift at 30.41, Pope at 31.40 and Renville at 58.29.

Some of the bright spots in the region are Lac qui Parle County at 99.36 percent, followed by McLeod at 98.36, Meeker at 98.31 percent and Stearns at 76.94 percent.

In 2013, Gov. Dayton's Broadband Task Force Report recommended a $100 million infrastructure fund to start addressing the $3.2 billion total investment needed statewide to address this issue.

The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Dayton invested $20 million on the broadband initiative in the current budget. This strategic investment resulted in 17 different organizations expanding broadband access to thousands of households, 150 businesses and 83 libraries, town halls, schools and other community institutions.

Broadband accessibility has been, is now and will be a critical issue in rural Minnesota for economic development, education, health care access, quality of life and many other reasons.

West central Minnesota Republican members in the House— Dave Baker, Willmar; Tim Miller, Prinsburg; Paul Anderson, Glenwood; Chris Swedzinski, Taunton; and Dean Urdahl, Grove City—need to speak up in their caucus on this issue.

This broadband void is a critical investment issue for Minnesota. It is as important as rural electric and telephone efforts across rural Minnesota were in the first half of the 20th century.

"High-speed Internet service is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity for job and business growth," said Executive Director Dan Dorman of the Greater Minnesota Partnership.

It is time for the Minnesota House to step up for the rural Minnesota and help invest in an appropriate broadband development program across all of state. Otherwise rural Minnesota will just continue to fall farther behind the metro belt from St. Cloud to Rochester.

Our region and the rest of rural Minnesota cannot afford to fall any further behind in this high-speed Internet world.

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