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MN's Rural Students to See Broadband Relief from Federal Bill

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021   

PRINCETON, Minn. -- President Joe Biden is expected to visit Minnesota today to tout passage of the new federal infrastructure bill.

Those working to fill broadband gaps for students in rural areas say the new plan should be a big help. According to the White House, Minnesota is poised to receive at least $100 million to expand broadband coverage across the state, with the possibility of more funding based on needs in certain areas.

Marc Johnson, executive director of the East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative, said as the pandemic took shape, many of the rural districts in his region had to get creative to ensure their students still were getting lesson plans.

"Sending work back and forth on buses, you know, to kids so that they could paper copies of things and things like that," Johnson recounted.

Johnson pointed out it also was hard for rural districts to set up Wi-Fi hot spots to keep students connected, in part because of weaker cellular signals. He added the funding is vital amid concerns students who could not fully participate in distance learning encountered setbacks in their academic performance.

Johnson also serves on the Governor's Task Force on Broadband. He emphasized Minnesota's east-central region serves as a "bullseye" for underserved areas when it comes to high-speed internet. He noted the extra money will take a lot of pressure off families and schools.

"Districts won't have to spend the money that they're spending right now on all of these measures to help families that don't have access," Johnson stated.

Combined with the $70 million in broadband spending approved by the state earlier this year, Johnson predicted the federal investment will "move the needle" in reducing gaps. Currently, 12% of Minnesota households do not have an internet subscription. The White House said the new funding will also help with internet affordability.


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