Like a lot of people in small towns and out of the way places in rural Minnesota, Eric Klindt wears many hats. A family man with deep roots in Minnesota's Wilkin County, he runs two businesses, volunteers for local service clubs and events, and is a safety instructor for a professional association.

He's also a county commissioner on the front line of a deepening divide between more populated areas of the state where high-speed, dependable, wire-line access to the world-wide web is available in a click, and areas like his where it is not.

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"We're stranded," he said, referring to the lack of reliable, high-speed broadband available to homes, farms and businesses in the area. "In a world that revolves around access to wired, high-speed internet service, we're on the dark side of the moon until we get connected."

His aerial applicator company covers a three-state area where agriculture is king. "Frustrating," is the polite word he would use to express his feelings about the internet service available to track weather and planes.

He used a wireless service for 10 years, but it was slow. "Dial-up was faster," he said. It took several minutes to load a single map that takes seconds for anyone in most other areas of the state. "I just switched to satellite only to find the service drops when weather moves in - which is when I need it most!"

And he's not alone. The Office of Broadband Development maps show 13 counties where more than 50 percent of the population is without even basic broadband service - and another five counties where that number is between 40 and 50 percent.

So Klindt's frustration is shared on a deeply personal level by the realtor or resort owner in Aitkin County when they lose another prospect because the expectation of a fast, reliable connection to the net cannot be met, or the parent in Redwood County who's child can't complete homework assignments, or the elderly, sick or infirm who are blocked from participating in the

exciting emerging benefits telemedicine is providing the state as a whole, and deep rural areas in particular.

Getting connected can't come fast enough for the quarter-million Minnesotans who are last in line and most in need as the state pushes toward meeting its broadband speed goals of 100Mbps/20Mbps upload to all Minnesota homes and businesses by 2026.

The goal is within reach, but legislators need to keep their eye on the ball, stay committed to getting the job done and don't leave unserved areas in the dark.

Minnesota Rural Counties (MRC) is a participating member in the MN Broadband Coalition. The coalition and its nearly 70 participating members, are requesting $51.48 million this year to fund the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program, in order to stay on pace to achieving established state speed goals.

Funding the Border-to-Border program is a top priority for MRC and for a broad cross section of rural advocacy organizations. In the mix of funding requests legislators must consider this year, we hope this issue is a top priority with them as well.

Paul Gerde, of Glenwood, is chairman of Minnesota Rural Counties, a 29-member advocacy organization working on behalf of Greater Minnesota counties.