Minnesota House DFL lawmakers have followed up on their ambitious “Minnesota Values Plan’’ that was publicized this fall through tours across the state with the introduction of 10 legislative initiatives.

The bills should spark discussions in St. Paul and may earn bipartisan legislative support.

Early childhood education, more affordable health care, putting a damper on escalating prescription drug prices and more are among the initiatives. However, none are more important than expanding rural broadband infrastructure and opportunities.

Why is rural broadband expansion so important for Minnesota residents?

It would expand business and employment opportunities across the state. Some universal broadband advocates say that availability in rural areas would be as impactful as the installation of electric service to rural communities and farms through coordinated government and private party efforts in the 1930s.

Broadband expansion would improve rural health care and education opportunities. Federal government statistics have consistently shown that broadband leads to better-paying jobs, reduced unemployment and increased satisfaction with regards to quality of life issues.

Broadband access disparity is a continuing problem. According to Broadband Now, a data-crunching website dedicated to helping consumers find and compare internet service providers in their area, 90 percent of Minnesotans have access to broadband service, but 17 percent of the state is underserved. It ranks Minnesota as the 26th most connected state. That’s the middle of the broadband pack.

Access has run 15 percent to 20 percent higher in urban areas compared to rural. Creating the infrastructure for high-speed broadband in rural areas is more expensive because those areas have fewer customers. The infrastructure that could be used to carry high-speed broadband tends to be older in rural areas and updating it is expensive.

Competition, when it is healthy, drives down costs. However, while many urban centers have three firms competing for high-speed broadband service, rural areas have only one company in the field.

Consistent and reliable broadband service would allow farmers to access up-to-the-minute grain prices, use their GPS-guided planters and harvesters to the fullest, and get all the DIY video help that their urban counterparts utilize.

U.S. policymakers continue to debate options for improving broadband access while other nations have made access a priority. Minnesota lawmakers who have made it a priority need to build support for it and see it through.

Rural residents benefit from the Office of Broadband Development, which is housed within the Employment and Economic Development agency. The office’s goal is to encourage creation of high-speed broadband access from border to border. It offers grant money for underserved areas and assistance with community planning.

The ability to work from home, reduce unemployment and the gap in pay for urban and rural workers all through technology will help create economically stronger rural communities.

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