Minn., others push fast broadband to hinterlandPublished 5:40pm Saturday, November 30, 2013
BOYD — From a farm country studio 3½ miles down a gravel road, Jean Menden ships handmade silver jewelry as far away as Norway to customers who discovered the pendants, rings and bracelets through her website.
What the retired teacher turned silversmith lacked until recently was a robust, reliable Internet connection critical to her budding business. Before newly installed fiber-optic cable delivered ultrafast broadband to her home, it was a challenge for Menden to maintain her electronic storefront and tap into Web-based tutorials that help hone her craft.
“If you had two hours, you could watch a 10-minute video,” Menden said as she described the fitful connection that used to be the best available around Boyd, a town of 172 people not far from the Minnesota-South Dakota border.
The high-speed capability that’s an afterthought in big cities and regional centers is spreading ever deeper into the nation’s countryside, nudged along by billions in federal stimulus dollars and state efforts to expand a key amenity for both quality of life and business competitiveness.
A Commerce Department report to Congress this fall highlighted efforts in Nebraska to hook up 100 key community institutions and 25 public schools with Internet dependable enough to support distance learning and library access in remote areas. It showcased a collaborative in Oregon where broadband has been credited with aiding 50 startup businesses and creating hundreds of jobs. And it emphasized strides in rural Illinois, where one district now supplies all of its students with a mobile device.
Still, the Federal Communications Commission reports that as of last year 19 million Americans still lived in an area without a fixed broadband connection, most of them in rural towns and on tribal reservations.
Every state has a commission or special project to measure broadband progress, but some are doing more. California established an industry-fed $60 million technology fund to advance broadband. Massachusetts lawmakers authorized investment of up to $40 million from state bonds in network infrastructure projects.