Wants and Needs

I am really excited to be able to participate in the Blandin Foundation’s new Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project.  Southwest Regional Development Commission, along with other Minnesota Regional Development Organizations, has been asked to be a partner in the state-wide BTOP initiative.

Say what I will personally about the wisdom and efficacy of the federal stimulus programs, MIRC is one bit of shovel-ready infrastructure policy I can whole-heartedly support.  What the railroads were to the 19th century, and the Interstate Highway System was to the 20th century, so broadband infrastructure is critical to success in the 21st century.

It is important, however, to acknowledge that not everybody in our great nation is on board with the survival of rural communities.  Mike Knutson, at the Rural Learning Center over in Howard, South Dakota, caught this bit at the Slate “magazine” a few weeks ago.  In part:

In areas where a few people live far apart, it’s simply not profitable to install the various lines and routers that deliver the Internet to consumers… Doing so may require a blunt acknowledgement that providing broadband access is just part of encouraging digital literacy, and that investments should be prioritized to regions where the most people can benefit.

Can you say Buffalo Commons anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

My question is of course rhetorical, but it should be asked.  We want it, but do we need it?  More directly, will we pay for it if we have it?  I know personally the cost of broadband kept me on dialup for 2 years after I moved into town.  And I refuse to pay for cellular service that’s spotty at best.

Mike writes on the Reimagine Rural blog:

Do we want it and are we ready for it?  Using these questions as the basis for one’s argument against broadband is a bit like asking, “Do you want healthier foods and are you ready it for them?”  Well maybe, maybe not.  But does that mean they shouldn’t be available to everyone?

That analogy “feeds into” another project I’m working on—Active Living Communities.  More on that later.


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