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More Minnesota households have broadband access but density is a challenge in rural area

Dave Schmitz, a broadband senior technical specialist at Charter Communications, services a cable box June 12 in Willmar. Charter is an active participant in Connect Minnesota’s initiative to ensure Minnesota residents have increased broadband access. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR - Recent research shows the number of Minnesota households with access to broadband at a minimum of 10 megabits-per-second download and 6 megabits-per-second upload has increased from 61.57 percent in October 2012 to 69.19 percent in June 2013.

"We are glad to see these numbers move in the right direction," said Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman in a news release. "Hopefully with this research, the development of broadband stays on pace to meet Minnesota's goals and needs."

The research was conducted by Connect Minnesota, a nonprofit agency working since 2008 to ensure that Minnesota residents have access to the economic, educational, and quality of life benefits derived from increased broadband access, adoption, and use.

This is the seventh comprehensive broadband availability data released from Connect Minnesota since the State Broadband Initiative started in 2009.

While the number of households with access to high-speed broadband has grown in some areas, rural area coverage is not as widespread as some would like due to low density.

"The infrastructure cost is the same no matter how many people sign up,'' says Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

"But when you have few people sign up to help pay for it, it either doesn't get done or it's going to be more expensive to get it done. Somebody's got to pay for it. For communities like Kandiyohi County, what are our options?'' Spaulding said.

"That's kind of where we're at is we're exploring what is the next stage. We do have good carriers. The good news is the Connect Minnesota report shows that our broadband is improving and our rate of broadband adoption and the amount of broadband that's deployed in Minnesota is improving. That is good news. A few years ago we were not ranking as high as the state should have.''

Spaulding said the EDC has long believed that having access to high-speed Internet and having it available throughout Kandiyohi County is important. The EDC would like to have Connect Minnesota officials meet in Willmar to re-evaluate the connectivity level in Kandiyohi County and discuss where it needs to be.

"Today's workforce is connected 24/7. If people don't have access during their off time at their home and they're not able to get high-speed Internet there, it impacts their ability to do the business that they'd like to,'' she said.

Connect Minnesota says a unique aspect in assessing broadband availability in Minnesota is the state statutory speed goal.

The goal states in part: "Universal access and high-speed deployment as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to broadband service that provides a minimum download speed of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speed of 5 to 10 megabits per second."

Connect Minnesota data indicate that nearly 70 percent of households have access to that level, leaving approximately 30 percent of households to serve in order to achieve the goal by 2015.

One broadband provider in this area, Charter, says it exceeds the Minnesota standard as outlined by the Connect Minnesota report.

Melissa Morris, Charter's vice president and general manager of Minnesota operations, noted the new research underscores continued efforts and investments Charter has made in its Minnesota network.

"Charter employees have participated in the Connect Minnesota effort. This initiative puts statistics on the table, underscoring the fact that progress is being made in a highly competitive environment. Ultimately this benefits Minnesota residents and the state's economic development efforts,'' said Morris.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150