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All across Norfolk and the region, the groundwork is being laid for the future.

Over the years, we’ve heard about the inadequacy of the internet throughout Nebraska — especially in rural areas — and that was proven with the grim reality that bandwidth statewide was insufficient for many families to work and study at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While colleges and universities welcomed students back on campus this fall, they also counted on offering students instruction online. Northeast Community College, for instance, moved from many traditional face-to-face classes to more online and virtual classes. That makes the issue of rural broadband even more important now because it appears that the need to work from home or attend school may be long-term, perhaps even permanent, for many. Also, employers at the national level are looking for remote workers nationwide, and expanded rural broadband could increase employment opportunities throughout Nebraska.

In other words, Nebraska communities that have struggled economically can benefit by having local residents being able to work for companies from around the country without ever having to leave their Nebraska hometowns.

That’s where Norfolk’s changing landscape of internet service providers comes into play.

Allo Communications and NextLink are just the latest to enter the Norfolk market, following Rise Broadband a few years back and joining Sparklight, a mainstay in the city.

Allo has been installing fiber optic cables to run from the street directly to homes that are designed to reduce the chance of significant speed decreases, service blips and unreliable connections. NextLink is building more towers around the city. U.S. Cellular also is boosting coverage with 21 new VoLTE cell towers in Nebraska communities with fewer than 2,000 people. VoLTE cell sites provide customers with new features, such as HD calling and simultaneous voice and data usage.

Building broadband infrastructure is incredibly expensive, and public investment will ultimately be needed for many smaller rural markets. The Nebraska Remote Broadband Access Grant program achieves an appropriate balance between private investment and government support and will spur economic development in these communities.

Outside Norfolk, more than $29.5 million in funding under the program is targeted toward areas where high-speed internet service is nonexistent or subpar. That includes Northeast and North Central Nebraska, where the grants will offer more than 5,500 housing units the ability to subscribe to broadband internet service in such towns as Atkinson, Creighton, Ainsworth and O’Neill.

While all this is good news for economic development, this changing landscape also is offering more competition among broadband providers — and more options for consumers. That’s a win for everyone.

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