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Capital Chatter: Could broadband force rural exodus?

ST. PAUL -- A new study raises the question about whether rural communities actually grow because of broadband. "It may not be having the effect you want," one of the Oklahoma State University authors of an academic paper said. The paper, in a So...

ST. PAUL -- A new study raises the question about whether rural communities actually grow because of broadband.

"It may not be having the effect you want," one of the Oklahoma State University authors of an academic paper said.

The paper, in a Southern Regional Science Association publication, indicated that increasing broadband high-speed Internet connectivity may improve rural residents' ability to see job opportunities elsewhere. Entrepreneurs and others may move out of their rural communities after using the Internet, the study indicates.

The study goes against the grain of what most politicians and rural advocates claim: Broadband availability attracts people.

In many parts of rural America, including Minnesota, broadband is lacking, with old dial-up Internet connections still the only way to get on the Internet in a few areas. In many other places, broadband remains slower than technology experts say is needed.

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A story in Route Fifty, a publication related to the National Journal, The Atlantic and other publications, indicates that study co-author Brian Whitacre said he expected to find that broadband attracts people to communities.

"If you’re looking at broadband to draw in these creative workers from cities and other places," he said, "it might not be having the effect you want."

A good Internet connection may open possibilities for rural residents, said Whitacre, who describes himself as a rural broadband advocate. "They don’t really have many other options. And what we argue is, maybe, as broadband becomes more adopted, these people are finding other business opportunities."

Even if that is true, he said, "there's positive economic impacts associated with rural broadband," including income growth. "But it’s not just this cure-all that’s going to solve all your problems."

Kathleen Ann Merrigan, a former deputy U.S. agriculture secretary, told Forum News Service in an interview about the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign that broadband is vitally important to rural America.

Talking about rural youths graduating from college, she said: "Nobody is going to leave the connected the world and (return) into an area without rural broadband access."

Minnesota politicians of both parties have supported spending state money to expand broadband throughout the state, although how much should be spent has been subject for many debates.

Money being spent Everyone expected lots of money to pour into Minnesota legislative campaigns this year, and newly released expenditure figures did not surprise.

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Take The Alliance for a Better Minnesota as an example, the richest example. The mostly union-funded organization, which supports Democrats, spent nearly $4 million through mid-September on specific races, as well as an overall television advertising campaign.

For instance, ABM has spent nearly $71,000 in support of Mary Sawatzky in her effort to regain a Willmar-area state House seat Dave Baker won from her two years ago. In Red Wing, the group spent $81,000 to allow Sen. Matt Schmit to keep his job as Republican Mike Goggin tries to unseat him.

The list goes on and on for ABM and other organizations that do their own advertising and other campaign efforts. In many cases, candidates describe advertising the outside groups fund as negative. Some candidates who benefit from the outside spending have urged groups to stop negative advertising, although candidates are not supposed to have contact with the groups.

Spending from outside groups supporting and opposing candidates of both parties cannot be coordinated with the candidates, which have their own campaign money.

Waiving college fees Minnesota State's 37 colleges and universities are waiving application fees for all or part of October, an annual effort to get students to apply.

Campuses with Minnesota State, which used to be known as Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, vary as to how long they will waive fees. Most waive the costs from Oct. 24 to Oct. 31, but some will not collect them at all in October.

Some colleges never charge an application fee and low-income students never pay them.

School boards honor Stumpf Awards for legislators are a dime a dozen, but the Minnesota School Boards Association's Outstanding Legislator Lifetime Service Award is a bit different since it covers more than one year's voting record.

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The award went to Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, who is retiring after 36 years as lawmaker, much of that time spent working on school issues.

"There is no one more deserving of this award," the association's Denise Dittrich said. "Sen. Stumpf had the ability to lead the state while never forgetting who he represented at the Legislature. He is highly respected by all and his wisdom will be missed."

Stumpf offered advice to new legislators: "Listen and learn from others before making judgements. It would be better to prevent problems than have to correct them later."

Minnesota a 'tossup' This is something you don't expect to hear in Minnesota: The presidential race is a tossup.

The state usually goes for Democratic presidential candidates, even if voters pick Republicans to lead state government. But Real Clear Politics has declared it a tossup state after polls showed Democrat Hillary Clinton's lead over Republican Donald Trump is anything from 7 points down to nothing.

Related Topics: ELECTION 2016
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