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Pioneer Editorial: Gov't role in bringing broadband

Connecting rural Minnesota to the world is the key for economic development.

A two-day summit last week in Minneapolis proved that point with story after story about how high-speed Internet, or broadband, for success. And how the lack of it means failure.

Held by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Summit brought attention to the fact that rural Minnesota might as well be in deepest Africa for the good that can occur without broadband.

Making the best point, perhaps, was Bruce Kerfoot, owner of Gunflint Lodge on the Canadian border. He has dial-up Internet, which is extremely slow and limited, while a competitor across the border in Canada has high-speed broadband. It's near impossible to book rooms online on slow-speed dial-up, but the Canadian resort had no problem booking Japanese tourists.

Broadband in itself can be an economic development tool, allowing remote areas to compete in the global marketplace. Not only that, but access to Internet can bring the world to rural Minnesota, especially to children who can supplement their book learning with the wealth of information that is now on the Internet.

Someone once said power is information, and in the 21st century, that is most certainly true.

But while the private sector is making great strides, such as Paul Bunyan Telephone Cooperative in Bemidji, it is not without federal and, in some cases, state subsidies. Broadband is becoming the electricity of the turn of the 20th century, or the telephone in the 1930s, when federal aid brought both to rural America through cooperatives.

Sen. Klobuchar brought with her to the summit Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who said the United States was last among 40 countries surveyed about how rapidly they were developing broadband. "Standing still on broadband is falling behind," he said.

He was told that broadband may even stem the tide of young people leaving rural towns if broadband can help them maintain rural lifestyles but still communicate as though they were in downtown Minneapolis.

Sen. Klobuchar was told that 64 percent of rural Minnesotans have high-speed Internet connections, from 6 percent in 2001. She called broadband access "the new essential utility."

But it won't come about without state and federal help, even in a rough economy. Providing broadband access to rural America can help create the economic development needed to turn the economy around, especially in rural areas.