This issue is perhaps a little unexpected, coming from us. Why would I take time on Earth Day to tell you about broadband development and environmentalism? It’s very important.
It’s 2016, and there are still many parts of rural Minnesota without access to the internet. According to the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, 20% of rural Minnesota households lack access to high-speed broadband. There is broadband funding legislation currently being heard in both the Senate and the House, but the two bodies of government need to compromise on the amount of funding. The Governor have proposed $100 million, but the House has only proposed $28 million.
Health Care Improvements: Broadband is hugely important in the health care industry. Most of our health systems are hooked up to the net, but if there isn’t the infrastructure for high-speed broadband already in a community, the hospitals and clinics need to take on the added burden of upgrading their system. Without access to broadband, it is increasingly difficult for clinics and hospitals in greater Minnesota to stay up to date and meet the needs of Minnesota residents.
The primary reason MEP supports this initiative is this: Funding broadband is critical to making the move from extractive or other environmentally damaging industries toward a green economy.
Moving Beyond Extraction: Jobs and economic development depend on internet access. So much of the push toward extractive industries in Minnesota is driven by a need to develop the economy. Jobs are desperately needed in rural Minnesota, in particular on the Iron Range. Without development of new infrastructure to facilitate new industries, there will only be a continued expansion of mining and other environmentally destructive industries. The pollution from mining industries far outlasts the time when the mine is operating – for example, the PolyMet mine would require hundreds of years of water treatment, but would only create jobs for 20 years.
In an economy so dependent upon fossil fuels and extraction, throughout Minnesota and the United States we need the infrastructure in place to shift our economy away from traditional production. Access to broadband is one of the critical tools that we need to develop more sustainable businesses. The energy sector is changing rapidly at the moment, as well as the types of business that are taking off in Minnesota. Broadband connects us to the global economy, and it allows for the growth of sustainable and green businesses.
Creating the Rural Green Economy: There are new forms of businesses that have risen because of the unprecedented access to information that the internet provides. Sustainable energy – and energy projects broadly – rely on the internet for their operation. The grid system has become connected in a way it wasn’t before. In order to expand renewables and move toward distributed energy systems, we will need access to high-speed broadband in greater Minnesota.
Green businesses thrive online. Local apiaries, native and heirloom seed exchanges, and other products could be produced remotely and then sold online. In fact – it’s almost a requirement to have a website in order to gain credibility in the business community these days. These statements may be obvious to you, but in light of the fact that 20% of rural Minnesotans don’t have access, they are important to remember.
Finally, if there were greater access to high-speed internet, there would be more opportunity for consultant business. Many people may be interested in moving to a smaller community, but concerned that they won’t be able to work in their field. Access to internet would allow for more people to work from home, to bring their expertise to rural communities, and thrive in smaller spaces.
It’s not just a luxury in 2016 to have access to the internet – it’s a necessity. Whether you are job-searching, starting a business, or just trying to expand your business, it’s important to have access to the internet to grow and expand.