Broadband task force observes benefits of high-speed access during Rock County tour

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The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband took a field trip Wednesday, June 28, to witness the positive impact high-speed Internet access is having on Rock County.

Denise Dittrich represents MSBA members on the Task Force.

Several communities within rural Rock County have been the beneficiaries of high-speed Internet service thanks to the Rock County Broadband Alliance Grant project. The work — which included funding from the Border to Border Grant Program within the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Rock County — was directed by the South Dakota-based Alliance Communications.

Sen. Bill Weber said Rock County was one of the first Border to Border Broadband grant recipients. Sen. Weber said the upgrade will deal with the “inequities of broadband in schools.”

The $12 million project — which laid 531 miles of fiber — serves more than 1,000 customers.

The Task Force’s tour included a visit with Hills-Beaver Creek School District Superintendent Todd Holthaus. Holthaus touted the importance of having high-speed access for his students.

“It has helped level the playing field,” Holthaus said.

Also, Holthaus said the stronger connection will allow the district to start its own 1-to-1 device program for the upcoming school year.

When asked if he had any advice for the Task Force, Holthaus replied, “Keep on keeping on.”

Holthaus said that while he is pleased with his district’s technological upgrade, there are still many rural schools and communities that are underserved.

The Task Force also learned about how high-speed access has helped the KQAD radio station and Skattum Confinement Systems in Luverne, and Jim Veldkamp Farms in Jasper.

Steve Grahpensteen, general manager of KQAD, said that before receiving the high-speed Internet, they were paying $2,000 per month to their previous service provider. Now, Grahpensteen says the station pays only $85 per month.

At each visit, the recipients were quick to acknowledge that high speed internet service in rural Minnesota is not a want, but a need, in order to maintain a vibrant rural economy, competiveness in the marketplace and for quality of life.

Gov. Mark Dayton formed the Task Force on Broadband in 2011 by Executive Order. The Task Force develops policies to promote the expansion of broadband access throughout Minnesota. The Task Force is responsible for developing an action plan to identify and correct disparities in access and adoption of broadband in all Minnesota communities, with a goal of ensuring that homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses have access to the technology and information resources they need.

Applications for the 2017 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program open on July 3.

The Task Force is scheduled to meet again Wednesday, July 19, in Sandstone.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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