Over the years I’ve heard alarming accounts of Minnesotans going to great lengths to get internet access so they can study, work, and connect with loved ones. In Otter Tail County, one high school student drove 40 minutes from home to a liquor store parking lot to take her online biology quizzes. And doctors have had to connect to the internet at McDonald’s just to read their patients’ X-rays when they weren’t in the office.
One study found that approximately 42 million Americans — including 35% of rural Americans — live in areas without access to broadband. In rural parts of Minnesota, 16% of households lack broadband at baseline speeds. That means more than 144,000 households in rural Minnesota go without high-speed internet every single day.
In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code. This is one reason the new bipartisan infrastructure package is such a win for our state and country. The historic legislation includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, with key provisions based on my bill to expand broadband access across the nation.
In fact, this is the largest investment our country has ever made in broadband.
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The bulk of this funding will go directly to states to expand broadband access across the country, starting with areas that completely lack connectivity. These grants will help ensure those in unserved and underserved communities have the high-speed internet necessary to participate in the modern digital economy.
This will make a big difference in our rural communities. With broadband access, many farmers will now be able to take advantage of precision technology that can detect soil moisture and tractors that use wireless connections to send data back to farms. In addition to supporting our farmers and ranchers, this will also help protect our nation’s food supply.
Small businesses will benefit, too. As e-commerce grows, bolstering our broadband infrastructure will enable them to compete with larger companies online, ensuring they have the digital tools to sell goods and reach customers from afar.
But for everyone from workers and students to farmers and small business owners to take advantage of internet access, one major factor we must consider is cost. In areas where broadband is available, it is often too expensive. One study found that Americans pay an average of $68 per month for internet service, some of the highest prices in the world. To lessen this financial burden, providers who receive state broadband grants will now be required to offer an affordable option. Many people will also receive financial assistance to put toward their internet bill.
The pandemic put a big magnifying glass on just how critical reliable high-speed internet is for accessing education, health care, and business opportunities in the 21st century. By expanding our broadband infrastructure and ensuring it’s affordable, we are investing in our nation’s future and taking a major step forward to ensuring everyone has access to high-speed internet.
Amy Klobuchar is an American lawyer and politician who has served as a United States senator representing Minnesota since 2007.