AMES, Iowa – COVID-19 has made strong internet infrastructure even more crucial to Iowa communities than ever. Policymakers and candidates are focusing their attention on the “digital divide.” How can Iowa’s rural businesses avoid being left behind in an increasingly internet-dependent marketplace?
“If your competitors can do business more easily and more quickly, and more broadly and globally, because they have high-speed internet, and you don't, you're at a disadvantage,” said Bill Menner, latest guest of the Back to Business Iowa podcast from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Menner was director of Iowa’s USDA Rural Development office for eight years (2009-2017) and now operates a rural sustainability consulting firm called The Bill Menner Group, based in Grinnell. He spoke with podcast host Steve Adams about the vital role of high-speed internet for rural Iowans—not only for business success, but for health, education and quality of life.
Even before the pandemic, Menner said, rural Iowa had a shortage of health care providers. When offices closed down, telehealth became the only way to consult with a doctor. Video meetings require much higher internet speeds than most Iowans can access. Thousands of students are currently taking classes all or partly online. Menner said he’s heard stories of parents driving their children to fast-food restaurant parking lots so they can access Wi-Fi.
The governor’s Office of the Chief Information Officer estimates 100,000 Iowans do not have access to adequate broadband, defined as a minimum speed of 25 megabits download and 3 megabits upload.
Menner said independent service providers and city governments are beginning to step in to fill the gap, but Iowa has a long way to go.
Listen to this and prior podcasts on the podcast web page. Back to Business Iowa is a collaboration among ISU Extension and Outreach Farm, Food and Enterprise Development and Community and Economic Development programs, and Iowa’s Small Business Development Centers. It features topics on education, research and technical assistance for Iowa’s small businesses.