Talking high-speed internet

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar updated local officials about the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act Thursday at the Otter Tail County Government Services Center.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped in Fergus Falls Thursday as she traveled north to visit with former U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson.

Klobuchar’s visit to Fergus Falls centered around a meeting with Mayor Ben Schierer and local officials to discuss efforts being made to expand access to high-speed internet for businesses, families and students.

Klobuchar has been one of the biggest names in Minnesota politics in recent years. She was one of the 2020 presidential candidates from the Democratic Party. After suspending her campaign March 2, Klobuchar endorsed current U.S. President Joe Biden, who went on to defeat Republican incumbent Donald Trump. Klobuchar, who has been a Minnesota senator for 14 years, gained national notoriety with her presidential campaign.

While Klobuchar led off Tuesday’s meeting at the Otter Tail County Government Services Center by giving an update on legislation focused on high-speed internet expansion, she was in Fergus Falls to listen.

“I am just out here to hear what you need,” Klobuchar told the group her husband has recently gotten a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Mall of America in Bloomington and said she was happy to see distribution has reached outstate Minnesota communities like Fergus Falls.

Along with a recovery from the pandemic, Klobuchar said efforts have been made to see that the U.S. economy “is in a steady place” along with what she called a “third piece” – building for the future.

Klobuchar has been a proponent of building a high-speed broadband infrastructure for a number of years.  Along with U.S. House of Representatives Whip Jim Clyburn (DFL-S.C.), Klobuchar, who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act on March 11.

The act will invest $94 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities and close the digital divide.

Klobuchar related a story about a biology student in Otter Tail County who had to take her online quizzes at a liquor store because it was a place she could access high-speed internet.

Klobuchar said Biden has built high-speed internet into the infrastructure bill he is proposing. If passed, the act will provide grants to small internet providers for internet improvements.

Otter Tail County Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard was one of those extending his appreciation to Klobuchar.

“From a county standpoint, I’ve been here for about six years, this was right up there with child care for priorities when I arrived and it still continues to be a priority,” Leonard said. “We’re a big county, we’re 2,500 square miles.”

Klobuchar has found that about 10% of the homes in Otter Tail County lack the broadband they require but that is far ahead of some of the counties she spoke with Wednesday where 30-40% of the households are without high-speed internet.

Leonard told Klobuchar there are presently 17,000 individuals in Otter Tail County without access to high-speed internet.

“Locally we have done an analysis and we already have a county of have and have-nots,” Leonard said. “We know these are heavy agricultural areas, they are the smaller communities that are going to get left behind.”

Leonard went on to tell Klobuchar that county officials are aware that providing high-speed internet is not cheap and that local companies are going to require grants to cover up to 50% of the cost.

Schierer also spoke to Klobuchar about the issue the entire state faces providing broadband.

“We’re stronger together,” Schierer said. “Broadband is an issue I think we can get behind. We need something to bring us together and I think broadband is as good as anything.”

Otter Tail County District 3 Commissioner Kurt Mortenson also addressed Klobuchar.

“As everyone here knows access to broadband is not a luxury, it’s critical infrastructure for Otter Tail County. I believe one-third of the county does not have access to high-speed internet and my district, District 3, has the largest unserved area.”

Erin Smith, executive director of the Viking Library System, and Anna Wasescha, president/CEO of West Central Initiative Foundation, also shared their stories with Klobuchar and saw good things for all Minnesotans with better access to high-speed internet.

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