Those living in Mankato, North Mankato or St. Peter have access to high-speed, good quality broadband internet. But you don’t need to venture far outside those city limits to find spotty coverage.

Not long ago, high-speed internet was considered more of a luxury than a necessity. But as the work, play and school world have moved increasingly to digital platforms, good internet speeds have become essential.

That point has been driven home during the COVID-19 crisis as adults work from home and students get their education via distance learning.

Stories abound of kids sitting outside libraries and other spots that have good wireless internet signals so they could do their homework. People working from home often found their internet speeds bogged down, especially if others in the household were on devices, too.

And even in areas where high-speed internet is available, the high price of getting it blocks lower-income households, leading to greater disparities in education and job prospects.

The good news is the pandemic has increased the political will to push for more broadband funding in Minnesota — an issue that both political parties know is a need.

The bad news is the budget demands created by the pandemic as well as lower state revenues amid economic hardship means supporting the sizable expenditures necessary will be difficult for many lawmakers.

Democrats in the House are looking at a $120 million broadband funding package to help promote more rural broadband infrastructure. Without state, federal and local taxpayer support, private companies are unable to justify the high cost of delivering internet infrastructure to less populated rural areas.

Republicans have generally supported spending less for broadband infrastructure, but they, too, realize internet speed has become even more important.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, told The Free Press that broadband is “one of the biggest issues ever for economic recovery of the state.”

Legislators and the governor have difficult and complex spending decisions to make as they set the state budget amid the realities of the pandemic. But improving broadband internet access should remain very high on the list as they make those decisions.

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