Broadband access is an equity issue for many Minnesotans with disabilities

Editor’s note: The Minnesota Statewide Independent Living Council (MNSILC) recently shared position papers with Minnesota’s Congressional delegation. Topics are transportation, broadband […]

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By MNSILC
Published October 01, 2023

Editor’s note: The Minnesota Statewide Independent Living Council (MNSILC) recently shared position papers with Minnesota’s Congressional delegation. Topics are transportation, broadband and the workforce shortage. Statewide Independent Living Council.  Excerpts from the paper on broadband are printed below. 
 
The Minnesota Department of Broadband Development estimates that 291,000 households do not have access to wireline broadband. Wireline broadband uses cables or data lines to connect service rather than satellite or other wireless options. 

Weather and terrain can limit the speed, capacity, availability, and reliability of wireless broadband. Increasing access and adoption of broadband in rural areas, including digital skills, online education and job search opportunities, leads to higher property values, increased job and population growth, higher rates of new business formation and lower unemployment rates. 

Broadband access refers to high-speed internet that does not block other modes of communication, such as telephone lines, and provides the highest quality services. Access to broadband is critical to work, school, healthcare access, community services, transportation, entertainment, and other life sustaining supports. 

Geography and distance create challenges to reach rural Minnesotans. This creates speed limitations and increases costs with the average cost of connecting unserved households at $9,500. Labor shortages reduce contractor availability. High monthly costs for broadband prevent lower income households from being able to afford service. 

Property management can require residents to purchase internet access that they resell to the development and prevent broadband service providers from accessing the property. High monthly costs prevent lower income households from being able to afford wireline broadband services. 

In 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 88.6 percent of households in Minnesota had broadband internet subscriptions. But only 57 percent of U.S. adults with annual household income less than $30,000 report access to home broadband. 

Costs of installation, affordability to the consumer and lack of suitable devices and digital skills are among barriers to broadband access for Minnesotans with disabilities. 
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) reports that a variety of barriers prevent low-income Minnesotans from using subsidy programs, including documentation requirements, language barriers, lack of awareness and difficulty of use. Broadband providers themselves do not promote affordability programs. Housing instability and inability to afford devices also are barriers to access, as are available skills resources.

In 2022 the estimated cost to connect all unserved households in Minnesota was $2,764,500,000. While several programs and grants have been implemented to expand broadband access, and to assist Minnesotans with disabilities in accessing broadband, service gaps exist. 

The Statewide Independent Living Council has several policy recommendations on broadband access. Those are: 

* Change the FCC definition of broadband to 100/20 Mbps to provide all Americans with higher quality, more reliable broadband access. American households typically have multiple devices that rely on connectivity as well as multiple users connecting to broadband at the same time. The increased speed metric provides greater reliability crucial for education and work from home. 

* Require all broadband providers to assertively promote affordability programs. Internet access increases employment, telehealth, and educational opportunities, improving the financial and social status of low-income households and the communities where they live. 

* Reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II, allowing the FCC to designate broadband as a utility. Government agencies ensure that public utilities such as electricity, natural gas, and water are reliable, resilient, and available. Rate and service regulation protects consumers while ensuring quality and reliability, and service providers are ensured income to cover maintenance costs and investment in expansion. Currently there is limited state oversight for internet providers with no rate regulation and limited quality assurance requirements. 

* Promote adaptive devices for people with disabilities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) without assistive technology people are often excluded, isolated, and locked into poverty, increasing the impact of disability on the person, their family, and society. 

 

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