Minnesota’s digital divide

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Getting stuck on the information dirt road

The Internet is a rapidly changing place, with new features, services and tools being developed all the time. Today’s technologies like YouTube videos or iTunes music downloads rely on Internet connections handling a lot of data fast. A high-speed broadband connection offers opportunities for entrepreneurship, telecommuting and online learning.

However, for people without access to broadband connections the Internet is a pothole-filled road rather than the information superhighway. Dial-up users are increasingly unable to make the best use of the Internet because their systems can’t handle the amount of data on many websites. The broadband/dial-up speed gap is especially pronounced in rural areas.

The Center for Rural Policy and Development reports that 39.7 percent of Minnesota rural Internet users had broadband connections in 2006, compared with 57 percent in the Twin Cities area. The center’s annual Minnesota Internet Study, subtitled “Broadband enters the mainstream,” is available here.

The report also noted that rural broadband penetration surged from 27.4 percent in 2005, accelerating at twice the pace of the preceding years. But many outstate Minnesotans still suffer from lack of access to high-speed connections. According to the report, 22 percent of rural Internet users would switch to broadband were it available where they live, compared with 10 percent of metro users.

Whatever the reasons, lagging use of broadband puts rural Internet users at a technological and economic disadvantage. Online possibilities like telecommuting and voice over Internet telephone service are simply unavailable to those without broadband access.

Broadband is already beginning to drive the global economy. Minnesota will become a full player in that economy only when we all get up to speed on the Internet.

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