Local view: “Broadband access is access to health care”

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And yet, as long as one in 10 Minnesotan doesn’t have high-speed internet access, we tell our (mostly rural) neighbors that we don’t care how annoying, invasive and inconvenient it can be for them. to consult their doctor.

Broadband Internet access is about equity in health care, and we need to do more.

The “Minnesota model” for building broadband access, as the Pew Charitable Trusts calls it, works, drawing money from state, federal, local and private into partnerships. Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission announced that more than $ 408 million would go to Minnesota to establish high-speed Internet. In June, the state legislature approved an additional $ 70 million.

In northeastern Minnesota, a partnership with the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and the community of Bois Forte has raised nearly $ 2.5 million for a project. which brings the Internet to Nett Lake, Palmquist, Indian Pointe and Vermillon. Similarly, the Fond du Lac band of Lake Superior Chippewa has partnered with the state to bring broadband to the western part of the town of Cloquet and the township of Perch Lake.

The Cloquet partnership was premonitory: he promised in 2019, according to the state, that “faster Internet speeds will open up… The Fond du Lac band understands that broadband access is access to health care .

But: The communities that remain disconnected from broadband are the ones most in need of our support – those without access to professional grant writers and to businesses and nonprofits that can lead initiatives to research fundraisers. border-to-border broadband development grants.

According to Zomi Bloom, telehealth program manager at Wilderness Health, a collaboration of hospitals, clinics and other health facilities working together to improve health care in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. , “People access health care through virtual means (like telehealth visits), access medical records online, and use patient portals to communicate with providers and schedule appointments. A high-speed and reliable internet connection is essential for a successful telemedicine visit.

In a message to me, Bloom also said: “Telemedicine enables people to access care when they cannot travel or when their role of breadwinner, parent or caregiver provides care. difficult to plan in a busy day. Virtual health care is here now and we must do all we can to accommodate all residents. “

St. Louis County Commissioner Ashley Grimm put it best in an email message: “This pandemic has made it clear that broadband is not a luxury; it is a necessity. As a county, we have the opportunity to lead this issue, help provide expertise and support our words with real investment. St. Louis County is currently planning to spend $ 2 million in broadband investments from our US bailout funds, but we need to dramatically increase that number to help meet that need. “

Instead of telling our fellow citizens in those recent communities without high-speed Internet access that we will support you “if you ask”, it is time for the Minnesota model to work to bring the Internet to communities without the resources or the capacity to do so. request.

David Beard teaches writing and communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth.


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