Ababiy: Internet access in rural Minnesota remains a key issue

Having sustainable internet in rural Minnesota can influence the economy and positively affect quality of life.

Jonathan Ababiy

A couple weeks after high school graduation, I loaded up my car with way too many useless things and too little of what I actually needed and headed up north. I was going to be summer camp counselor.

It was a great summer — best summer of my life, really. I learned a lot, attempting to be a responsible dad to eight kids for a summer. My gratitude and respect for my parents and substitute teachers greatly increased. I saw many orange sunsets with great people, too.

It was all great, until I tried to apply for a job at this newspaper. I quickly learned something that many other real outstate Minnesotans have known for far too long: the internet in rural Minnesota is terrible. My camp was in the middle of nowhere. The motto of the unincorporated community my camp resided in, which is far too small to even be a town, was: “Where the pavement ends, and the north begins.” This was, unfortunately, where any decent internet access ended too.

A cover letter was required for this job. However, I had never made or seen a cover letter in my life, so I turned to online tutorials to teach me how to write a cover letter. My breaks at work were short and infrequent. To conserve the bandwidth that I would’ve burned by repeatedly pulling these websites up, I had to print out each useful cover letter guide I found. I did the same for my resume too. Additionally, I had to strategically check my emails, in order to not burn bandwidth with mindless inbox refreshes.

Luckily, I got my application materials done in time. Voicemails would take a couple days to show up in my phone, but I managed to write up and send my resume and cover letter before the camp’s bandwidth came too close to its cap like the water in a shipwreck movie.

These kinds of hindrances do add up and hinder economic growth, though, so much so that the lack of access to high-speed internet is an issue across the country.

Research by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs has found that high quality internet access creates both short-term and long-term economic growth. Towns that added broadband internet even had better employment numbers than other cities. The internet allowed for a wider variety of employment in rural towns usually dominated by agriculture, logging and mining.

Even money can’t help people escape the issue. The Pew Research Center found that 24 percent of rural adults across the country said that high-speed internet was a major problem in their local community. Interestingly, this belief held steady across incomes, too. Both rich and poor rural Americans agreed at nearly the same rate, 20 and 23 percent respectively, that internet was a major problem in their community.

This election year offers the perfect opportunity to press our state and federal leaders to consider expanding access to high speed internet. Politicians need to rethink the way we’ve regulated and subsidized internet infrastructure. We need to support our rural areas in their efforts to cross the digital divide.

Just imagine how many resumes, job applications and homework assignments haven’t been completed due to a slow or faulty internet connection. Our rural areas cannot be left behind in this technological age.