Senator Amy Klobuchar visited Thief River Falls, MN on Friday, August 3, conducting a listening session with local elected officials, educators, economic developers, telecommunications service providers, and others.
The senator spoke about the importance of broadband for the local economy, as well as funding that can improve broadband speed and accessibility.
While most of the state has broadband, Senator Klobuchar said that “26 percent of Minnesotans do not have broadband. That’s pretty high.” She spoke about the economic importance of broadband. “Twelve years ago, when I first started, it was a lot of moms wanting to send emails to their kids in college,” she said. “We are so beyond that now. It (broadband) has become integrated in our work. We have to have high speed broadband in order to compete. With Thief River Falls having such large businesses, we have to make sure that we have high-speed available in the town and in the surrounding areas as well.”
And it’s not just the businesses who need broadband. Kids need it, too.
Just ask area resident, Holly Maycock, who lives in Pennington County’s Numedal Township. She attended the listening session, representing Numedal, Bray, and Sanders townships in Pennington County, and New Solum Township in Marshall County. All four townships lack broadband.
She lives just a half a mile from Garden Valley and Wiktel service. Eighty percent of the families in these four townships have school-age children. Kids are issued iPads at school and are expected to do homework on them. Without broadband service, they can’t do their homework. “It’s a real problem,” Maycock said. “The farmers can’t access broadband either,” she added.
Senator Klobuchar said “there are stories around our state of farmers going to do their work in the McDonald’s parking lot. True story, happens all the time.”
Low population in rural areas makes installation of fiber extremely expensive. Klobuchar believes that better use of the Universal Service Fund is one of the most important means of funding service to these high-cost areas. She also spoke about the 2018 Farm Bill, which has passed both the Senate and the house. It includes an amendment that promotes precision agriculture and targets broadband deployment to the nation’s farms and ranches. The amendment, based on Klobuchar and Senator Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband connectivity for the country’s cropland and ranchland. The measure also instructs the agency to develop ways to encourage broadband adoption and precision agriculture in areas where it is currently unavailable.
While the entire City of Thief River Falls and a majority of the County have access to broadband, there are areas within the county that are either lacking service, or underserved. (Download a copy of the Pennington County Broadband Infrastructure Map to see areas identified as unserved, underserved, and served within the county.)
One thing was clearly evident at the listening session—elected officials, service providers, and economic developers are committed to working together to reach the entire Thief River Falls area with broadband.