GUEST EDITORIAL Investing in internet access for all Minnesotans

by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar
As people across the country stay at home to keep themselves and their families safe in the midst of this pandemic, being connected to the outside world is especially important. With schools and businesses closed, kids are learning from home, parents are working and searching for jobs from home, and families are accessing telehealth services from home. But those things aren’t possible without access to high speed internet.
In rural communities throughout Minnesota, roughly 16 percent of households lack access to high speed internet. That means 144,000 households are missing out on the benefits that come with broadband. And that’s simply unacceptable. I’ve heard from school superintendents across our state who are partnering with small broadband providers directly in order to help their students without internet access. These are innovative partnerships that will help our kids during this difficult time.
But in 2020, it’s not right that some parents in rural parts of our state have to drive to restaurants and coffee shops so their kids can do their homework. One mother from Embarrass, Minnesota had to drive forty minutes to a McDonalds’s parking lot in Virginia to get an internet connection so her son could do his homework and her daughter could videoconference with her math teacher. We need to make sure our children can continue their education by participating in distance learning with internet access at home.
That’s why—following the announcement that K-12 schools would be closed in response to the pandemic—I worked to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman to ensure that all K-12 students in our state have access to high-speed internet so they can access online learning.
I also introduced legislation to help small broadband providers continue to provide internet services for students and low-income families in rural areas. This legislation would create a $2 billion fund at the FCC that would help these families remain connected to their school, work, and communities.
I’ve always believed that when we invest infrastructure like broadband, we invest in opportunity for every American and help to bridge the digital divide. My bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps was signed into law last month. This bill is in an important step forward in helping us to determine where broadband is available across the country. Our students and families need reliable broadband services so they can continue working and learning during this time.
But there is more work to do and I will continue to press for additional funding so that all students can access the internet at home, regardless of their zip code.
Our children—no matter where they live—deserve to be able do their homework at home. Families should be able to access the services they need. These are uncertain times, which are testing all of our courage and fortitude, but I will continue working to make sure Minnesotans get the help they need.
You aren’t fighting this crisis alone—we are all in this together. And I know we will get through this together.