Minnesota has been working on digital inclusion at the state and community levels for quite a while, yet, as a recent article pointed out, 10-20% of Minnesotans still are underserved by broadband access. The article certainly is worth a thorough read, but I wanted to highlight some points it made.

The article shows the importance of portraying the current reality of demand in rural areas because policymakers don’t necessarily know the impact of changing internet services and business practices. As the article points out, “farming, once so hermetic, is now at the forefront of the so-called ‘internet of things,’ employing everything from wired tractors to digital milking machines to remote crop-monitoring.”

Along with accurate information about demand, policymakers need facts about the economic and social benefits of broadband. For example, the article cites a claim that broadband increased household income by an average of $1,850, a figure estimated by The Ohio State University’s Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy (see their study here). The authors averaged estimates from two previous studies (posted here and here), which they argue is a conservative amount given advances in broadband quality and services since those studies were published. Economic benefits such as increased household income resonate with policymakers and help make the case for increased support for initiatives.

The article discusses different approaches to providing internet access – from a Minnesota legislator’s support for satellite to the state’s generally preferred method of fiber-optic cable. The answer probably isn’t the same for each community, which is a primary reason for communities to band together and advocate for a solution that works for them.