As our lives are affected by the coronavirus and many people are making major changes in their everyday routines, maybe it’s time to think about what the future could look like.

If every part of Wisconsin were hooked up to high-speed Internet, it would make it easier for children to do distance-learning; for small businesses to continue functioning; and for parents to work at home while juggling child care and elder care. It would make it easier for sick people to get primary care via telemedicine.

Covid-19 has shown how fast a deadly virus can spread. We’ve had four pandemics in the 21st Century: SARS, H1N1, Ebola, and now the coronavirus. These are four major outbreaks in the last 17 years.

These outbreaks may get worse as our global, national, and state population continue to get more urban. In my view, diseases like coronavirus are much easier to contain in small-town America with its less-dense populations.

Beyond containing pandemics, expanding our high-speed Internet infrastructure is good for the economy. Data shows that our U.S. and Wisconsin economies have shown great improvement in the last 10 years, but rural Wisconsin hasn’t seen the same benefits as our urban areas. Without success in rural communities, the state economy won’t reach its full potential.

Changes have to be made in the way we fund our rural schools. In the current state budget, 169 school districts got less state aid than a year ago and now have to implement virtual learning.

Now that our schools are closed and have gone to online instruction, I wonder how many of our rural students lack access to the Internet? What happens if their laptop, tablet or smart phone doesn’t work?

For years, experts have been predicting the telecommuting economy. People tend to resist change, but when a crisis occurs, we have to ask how can we do better? Here is a perfect opportunity for Wisconsin to help its small towns and rural schools by prioritizing high-speed Internet.

Research shows a company can save an average of $24,000 a year for each employee who works entirely from home. Other gains are better employee productivity and big declines in sick-leave and worker turnover. Work-at-home employees save themselves an average of $4,500 per year through reduced costs from travel, food and parking.

Finding good child care in rural areas is a problem for many families. The graying of America means more workers are caring for an aging parent. Juggling such responsibilities is easier for work-from-home employees. Gardens, animals and family chores can also enhance the responsibilities given to children and teenagers.

The success of the Wisconsin economy depends on the success of our rural communities. Let’s make it easier to work remotely from home. Both employee and employer stand to benefit.

The telecommuting economy is currently getting a test-run in the United States and Wisconsin. With a little help from the state and from private businesses, we can encourage it more, making our economy stronger and more prepared for the next pandemic.

State Rep. Don Vruwink represents parts of Rock, Walworth, Jefferson, and Dane counties, which include the communities of Whitewater, Milton, Edgerton, Footville, part of the Village of Oregon, and 15 surrounding townships. He can be reached at 608-266-3790, Rep.Vruwink@legis.wisconsin.gov, and P.O. Box 8953, Madison WI 53708.

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