Invest in humans, not just broadband technology, Blandin tells Congress

Bridging the digital divide in rural America requires investment in people’s capabilities, not just technical infrastructure, an officer with Minnesota’s Blandin Foundation told Congress today.

Bernadine Joselyn urged continued federal attention to the need to bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities. She stressed what Blandin, based in Grand Rapids, Minn., has been emphasizing for years in rural Minnesota — teaching residents and businesses how to make better use of their available Internet access.

Joselyn told a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee about efforts in Minnesota to put refurbished computers and subsidized Internet subscriptions into the hands of low-income residents and entrepreneurs. Sometimes it’s not the speed of access, but simply making sure the information about your business is correct on Google so a smart phone user can find you, she said.

“Broadband adoption is not just a policy imperative; it’s a community imperative,” said Joselyn, Blandin’s director of public policy and engagement.

“Rural communities need broadband access and the ability to use it in order to thrive in this globalized economy,” she added. “Access to broadband is key but so is adoption, and community-based community engagement efforts work.”

One of the issues senators are debating is whether the government should require “lifeline” subsidies for low-income Internet users.

Minnesota DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who sits on the committee, stressed the usefulness of libraries in poorly served areas, particularly to help people apply for jobs.

Click here to watch the hearing, which also included officials from the Pew Research Center,  Comcast Corp., and California.