Gary Evans: Better broadband access in Greater Minnesota would benefit Bemidji
The Pioneer’s Oct. 22 editorial “Don’t paint with broad(band) brush,” was correct in praising local business and community leaders for establishing a currently excellent local broadband environment. Bemidji should be commended for having the foresight to understand that broadband is a crucial component of economic growth and promoting the investment necessary to bring high-quality Internet into its community.
Although Bemidji has been among the state’s broadband leaders, much of Greater Minnesota — including areas not far outside the city — still lacks high-quality, high-speed Internet.
That is why it is extremely important that the Greater Minnesota Partnership include broadband in its list of priorities going into the 2014 Legislative Session.Today, a reliable Internet connection is absolutely vital to residents and businesses everywhere, not just those located within city limits.Health care, education and business competitiveness are just a few of the reasons why better broadband service should be one of the areas of focus for the Greater Minnesota Partnership.Let me elaborate. High-quality broadband is now a necessity when it comes to health care, especially in rural, isolated areas that lack easy access to hospitals and clinics.With an aging rural population, health care companies are increasingly relying on the Internet to provide services to their patients. Individuals living on farms and small communities deserve better access to health care.The technology to serve them exists, but they lack the Internet connectivity needed to take advantage of it.Similarly, many students in Greater Minnesota are missing out on important educational skills and opportunities because they don’t have effective broadband services.In order to have a strong state, we need a well-educated work force. That can’t happen if half of the students in Minnesota lack access to high-quality Internet.Yes, Bemidji has currently excellent broadband service.However, that doesn’t mean Bemidji shouldn’t care about bringing broadband to the rest of Greater Minnesota. As a regional center, the businesses, health care facilities and educational institutions in Bemidji will be able to serve more people and become even stronger if the surrounding areas have the same reliable Internet access that exists within the city.I hope the Greater Minnesota Partnership will look at the innovative things Bemidji and other areas in the state with leading-edge services have done to bring broadband into their areas.This will be of significant help to other communities in Greater Minnesota that desire to follow in the leaders’ footsteps.And there is much to be done. The latest Governor’s Broadband Task Force annual report, issued last December, paints a pretty dismal picture.The 2012 report found that Minnesota ranked 25th among the states with an average connection speed of 6.7 megabits.While the average Internet speed in Minnesota was up one megabit from 2011 the state slipped from 24th to 25th in the rankings.Gary Evans is former President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Corp. and Interim Vice President of University Advancement at Winona State University. Evans is also on the Greater Minnesota Partnership’s Board of Directors and is a member of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force.