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The Supreme Court throws out a Trump-era ban on gun bump stocks; a look at how social media algorithms and Shakespearian villains have in common; and states receive federal funding to clean up legacy mine pollution.

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The Supreme Court for now protects access to abortion drug mifepristone, while Senate Republicans block a bill protecting access to in-vitro fertilization. Wisconsin's Supreme Court bans mobile voting sites, and colleges deal with funding cuts as legislatures target diversity programs.

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As summer nears, America's newest and largest international dark sky sanctuary beckons, rural job growth is up, but full recovery remains elusive, rural Americans living in prison towns support a transition, while birth control is more readily available in rural areas.

Broadband crunch produces side effect: underground digging mishaps

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Thursday, May 2, 2024   

Government leaders are acting with urgency to get underserved communities connected with high speed internet but in Minnesota, underground digging for broadband installation is emerging as a safety concern.

This spring, the think tank North Star Policy Action issued a report noting over the past three years, such installations were the leading cause of damage to buried infrastructure in the state.

Aaron Rosenthal, research director for the North Star Policy Action, said telecommunications crews are coming in contact with a maze of electric lines and natural gas pipes, with the drilling averaging more than 1.25 strikes a day.

"That's a level of damage that we think is very concerning," Rosenthal asserted. "It stands out from other industries and we believe needs to be addressed. Minnesotans should not have to choose between high speed internet and their own safety."

The data is from a trade organization and Rosenthal warned because it is provided voluntarily, the full scope of damage is unclear. The authors contended workers receive inadequate training and a bill in the Legislature would beef up standards. Skeptics worry about effects such as derailing progress on broadband goals with a wave of federal funding spurring projects.

But the researchers and labor leaders predicted the accelerated pace of installations will result in more incidents.

Octavio Chung Bustamante, Minnesota and North Dakota field organizer and marketing representative for the Laborers' International Union of North America, said the workers, many of whom are immigrants, are putting their lives at risk without getting a prevailing wage.

"When you talk about underground work -- electric, or gas, or water and sewers -- a lot of those workers, you know, they earn a good living," Bustamante observed. "But it's a different game for broadband work."

The legislative push also includes provisions to set fair wages for broadband installation workers. As for the data, a key state agency notes overall damage from utility excavation has trended downward. The researchers said it is a symptom of reporting requirement issues, underscoring their argument the information is incomplete.

Disclosure: The Laborers International Union of North America contributes to our fund for reporting on Energy Policy, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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