According to a report from the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, nearly 30 percent of Minnesotans - and more than half of folks living in Greater Minnesota - lack affordable broadband access.

In Nobles County, according to data distributed by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities earlier this month, a mere 5.27 percent of households are connected at speeds of at least 25 mbps (megabits per second) for downloads and 6 mbps for uploads. That’s a sharp contrast to Anoka County, where 96.74 percent of households have broadband connections at those speeds. Other rural counties are even worse off for broadband access than Nobles - Murray (1.88 percent), for instance - but just a few miles east of Worthington sees Jackson County at a 68.67 percent optimal connection rate.

When it comes to moving forward on the information superhighway, it’s clear that our backyard is traveling in the slow lane. That almost certainly has to change. Business, first and foremost, is done with greater frequency online, and competing with entities around the world and communicating with a global market necessitates reliable, rapid connections. Even 21st-century farming is becoming reliant on broadband nowadays; so are sectors like health care and education.

So what be can be done? The aforementioned task force has recommended the creation of a $100 million fund by the state. Communities, co-ops, private partners and non-profit organizations would be awarded money based on specific criteria. The concept would not be new - more than a dozen states already have similar programs.

While $100 million may be a lot to set aside this year, it can’t be argued that the current budget surplus presents an opportunity for broadband investment in some significant degree. For many, it’s a small price if the alternative is being left behind on an ever-faster highway.

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