An unnecessary rural-urban divide

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Information is power. Information is also a critical economic development tool, but according to the US Department of Commerce, rural Minnesota’s broadband internet connectivity rates significantly lag behind urban broadband. The disparity is troubling.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an office of the US Commerce Department, recently released a broadband access survey. Urban dwellers are significantly more likely to have access and to use a broadband internet connection than their rural counterparts. In Minnesota, 69 percent of urban residents had broadband access versus 54 percent of people in rural areas.

The rural-urban divide means that economic development barriers are significantly higher for rural Minnesota communities. A robust information infrastructure overcomes distance and geography, significantly leveling urban areas’ economies of scale but also their costs. Roads, rail and waterways are not enough.

Rural business is substantially extractive. Rural Minnesota grows commodities — grain, livestock, trees, taconite — for sale to distant processors. Leveraging that tradition and skill to grow new opportunity requires value-added processing close to home, but this is impossible without ready information access to the global marketplace.

The 2009 NTIA report highlights an information-access barrier, but it also equally suggests opportunity. Expanding information infrastructure creates rural investment. A healthy, growing Minnesota means a healthy, growing rural Minnesota.