I’ve spoken passionately about the COVID crisis, climate change, healthcare, and racial equity, so “Internet Access” as a legislative priority might be surprising. In this post I'll explain why. You can also read Sunday's CNN article for a national view on the issue.
In a world where everyone is at home and education is entirely online, every student needs to be connected from home. Meanwhile more and more jobs will migrate online, which limits economic potential to those who can connect. But over 150,000 Minnesota households lack basic broadband internet access, and many more have only minimal coverage options. This is true even here in our district.
When it comes to the internet, our state has two digital divides: one demographic and the other geographic. Equality on this issue means 100% connectivity state-wide, but there are clear racial disparities – 25% of Black and 23% of Latinx households lack access, compared to 14% of White homes.
It is also an economic issue. Nearly 100% of those making over $75k are connected, but 20% of those in the $20-75k income range and a startling 44% making under $20k lack internet access. Competition is a factor here - in many areas service options are limited, resulting in high prices for slow speeds.
Of course, this issue hits white Minnesotans as well, along with communities of color. In rural Minnesota, for example, on our farms and in our forests, 17% of the population lacks access to broadband. This is an immediate problem for students and a predominantly white workforce adapting to a rapidly changing economy. Poor internet service is a competitive disadvantage, and expanding coverage will benefit the many small businesses operating outside the metro area.
These are the same communities and regions that already face the brunt of the COVID impact, the worst fallout from climate change, and the most risk from a transitioning economy. Minnesota has made progress on expanding broadband, but we must finish the work of connecting everyone, immediately, so that our children and our workforce are not left behind.
Above you can see a video of me talking about the importance in Internet Access to our District and State.