Madam President, we all know that the American economy is in a challenged state. That would be a nice way of putting it. I spent about a week in December traveling around my state visiting 22 counties, meeting with people who have been working three jobs, had their hours reduced, were afraid they weren't going to be able to buy their grandkids Christmas presents. Letters I have gotten into my office included a woman who wrote in that said she inherited a small amount of money from her dad. She thought that money would go to her daughter’s wedding but instead that money was being used to pay for her retirement because she had lost so much money on her retirement money. We heard stories of a man and his wife who had put their daughters to bed at night and then they gather at the kitchen table and just shake their heads and say, how are we going to make it.

Those were the things that I heard about when I was home in Minnesota in December. But I also saw some optimism and hope as I went around our state and saw the growing energy economy and I heard the enthusiasm for our new President-elect. Obviously there's still frustration with what's been going on with this administration for the past eight years and how they have really not had a forward-thinking plan for this economy. And people have hope that that's going to change. And I can tell you there is widespread interest in the economic stimulus package proposed by the new President. There's widespread interest in my state for the infrastructure spending, for the energy jobs.

And one thing that I believe we need to devote some specific time to as we go forward in the next few weeks -- and I know the new President is interested in -- is the idea of looking not just at roads and bridges and -- and the infrastructure of this country, but to look at the technological infrastructure of this country, to figure out why we've had trouble competing with some of the countries around the world. And I can tell you, when you talk to people in park rapids, Minnesota, who go maybe a mile out of town and they can't even get on the internet or it costs them $700 a month if they're going to do satellite or they can be stuck with the dial-up that's so slow they can hardly use it. You get to -- they can hardly use it. You get to understand the need for better technological infrastructure in this country.

And what I finally figured out after this 22-county tour, trying to figure out why some companies tell me, "well, we're offering internet service." I finally found out what the real problem is. In so many counties in my state, they may have internet service but it is either much too slow or much too expensive. As a country, we have assured -- to ensure that every American has access to telephone service and electricity regardless of economic status.

Well, we must now do the same for broadband internet access. Broadband not only creates educational and health care opportunities, it can create opportunities for businesses and employment that would otherwise not exist in rural communities. In these tough economic times, broadband deployment creates jobs. Not only direct creation of jobs in the tech sector but also the creation of even more indirect employment opportunities by increasing access to broadband.

After visiting the 22 counties in Minnesota I convened a broadband roundtable in my state on December 29.  I heard about the importance of making sure that people have access to fast and affordable broadband. We've had success stories in our state, as well. One story that I heard when I was out in a small town in Minnesota, Sebeka, they began diversifying early into cutting-edge technologies including fiber optic infrastructure, cable and satellite tv, broadband internet services to 100% of their customers and they have a very high percentage, I think, in the 70% to 80% of the people actually purchasing this high-speed internet in a very small town in a remote area in Minnesota.

The government of Carver County, Minnesota, is leading a collaborative effort to interconnect county facilities with school districts, townships and other entities to hookup high speed communication. Through a number of funding and technical assistance programs, Minnesota’s Blandin Broadband Initiative has worked in rural Minnesota communities to educate community leaders and to get these partnerships started. Despite these local success stories, however, much more needs to be done. The overall reality is that America has become an international laggard on broadband. In 2000, the United States ranked 4th among 30 nations surveyed in broadband subscribership according to the organization for economic cooperation and development and today the U.S. is 15th on the list.

So, in the last eight years, Madam President, we've gone from 4th in the world to 15th in the world. That is not the kind of progress that is going to keep this country moving and get us back on track. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the U.S. is now perched an 24th in the world in broadband penetration. Canada has a higher level of broadband penetration and digital opportunity than we do. Broadband adoption in the United States does continue to grow from 47% of homes in March of 2007 to 55% in April of 2008 but the figure is significantly lower for those in rural America: only 38%.

And, of course, we have to consider more than just access, as I noted earlier. We need to look at speed. We need to look at speed if we're going to compete with countries like India and Japan. So we have work ahead of us. All of us understand that broadband is a critical infrastructure for the 21st century. By one estimate, to give you a sense of what we're talking about here jobs, every 1 percentage point increase in broadband penetration per year would lead to the creation of nearly 300,000 new jobs.

That's why it's essential that all communities, including our rural communities, have the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this 21st century infrastructure. I want these jobs in my state, going to Thief River Falls, or Lanesborough, or Crookston, instead of other countries like Japan and India. It is that simple. I want these jobs to stay in the United States. We've seen the challenge before to make sure that our rural communities are not left behind as technology develops. For example, there are still many Americans who can remember growing up in homes with no electricity and no telephone service. In 1935, about 80% of all homes in towns and cities in the U.S. had electricity but fewer than 12% of farms in America had electricity and only about 25% had telephone service which was often unreliable often.

In 1935 President Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration, REA which organized and supported farmer-owned could open to bring electricity to the farms. By 1949, from 1935 to 1949, more than three-quarters of all farms in America had electricity. So with those standards put in place it went from 12% to 75%. That is an amazing achievement during a time of crisis because people believed that you could get this done. The penetration of telephone service actually took longer. In 1949 only 36% of America’s farms had telephone service. That year, telephone amendment was added to the rural electrification act which made loan funds available to finance rural telephone systems. In just a little more than a decade, nearly 80% of farms had telephone service.  Even much of our modern transportation infrastructure including paved roads, steel and concrete bridges has come into existence in the past 70 years because of the New Deal and President Eisenhower’s interstate highway program. Our broadband infrastructure presents us with the same challenge to make sure that no one is left behind. President-elect Obama understands that broadband must now be considered a basic part of our national infrastructure.

He also understands that investment in our broadband infrastructure is essential to our long-term prosperity. A few weeks ago in a weekly address, President-elect Obama announced that a key part of his economic recovery plan would involve increasing broadband deployment and adoption, saying "it is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption." On Monday of this week, I sent a letter to the President-elect applauding his efforts to include investment in our nation's information infrastructure as part of an economic stimulus package. I also asked that he consider these partnerships that we have seen work so well in our state and that matching grants on the federal level to work with the local communities would be one way to spur broadband development.

And I finally asked him to look at the fact that this is not just about communities that have no access. It is also about communities that have bad access or slow access or too expensive acess. If we really want to get the broadband infrastructure in place we have to make it work for everyone, just as what Dwight Eisenhower did with the highway system in the 1950's, and just as President Roosevelt did with the rural electrification in the 1930's and 1940's. I believe that the economic stimulus package must include mechanisms designed to bring affordable and fast broadband to this country.

An economic stimulus package should fully fund the Broadband Data Improvement Act which I cosponsored and which passed last Congress. Any economic stimulus package, as I mentioned, must also fund matching grant for community level partnership that demonstrate strong cooperation among local government, businesses, schools and health care and others.

Finally, one aspect of the nation's information infrastructure that may condition to elude us absent some direct federal involvement is the creation of an advanced interoperable communications network for public safety. I still remember hearing when one of our police officers was shot and killed in St. Paul, Minnesota, how those that were trying to apprehend the person, the murderer in this case, when they were in the helicopter they literally had to have multiple walkie-talkie and telephones sometimes six or seven to try to match up with all the phone systems that were in use across our area. Well, sense then, we've had improvements in the large metropolitan area of the Twin Cities in our interoperability but we do not have that kind of matching and that kind of cooperation in the rural areas of our state nor across the country.

The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. The fact that our nation's police, fire, and other first responders, including those in our rural areas, still do not have access to such a network more than seven years after the tragic events of September 11th is simply unacceptable. I believe that consideration of this issue in the context of broadband stimulus measures may present the best chance to address this continuing problem.

Madam President, I join the President-elect in so many in this senate in calling for 21st century technology to create jobs and help our economy being more robust and competitive in the long-term. This is about creating immediate jobs. We can get that with technological infrastructure.  But it is also about creating jobs that leaves us with something that will move the economy forward. This technological infrastructure, whether it be the electricity grid or whether it be the broadband that I’ve spoken about today is, really, our rural electrification. It is really our interstate highway. It is our generation’s chance to build the infrastructure in a way that will fit the changing needs of this country and allow us to compete on a world stage. Thank you very much, Madam President.