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Seeking better broadband: Kandiyohi County lags behind area counties in high-speed Internet

WILLMAR –– As a regional center, Kandiyohi County has a lot to boast about but its Internet service is nothing to write an email home about.

According to the data from Connect Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that works with the state to identify broadband coverage gaps, about 13 percent of the households in Kandiyohi County have the kind of high-speed Internet service the state classifies as adequate — minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of 5 to 10 megabits per second.

Statewide the availability of that type of Internet speed is nearly 83 percent.

At 13 percent, Kandiyohi County is nowhere close.

“I’m absolutely shocked by the percentage of coverage in our county,” said Commissioner Doug Reese. “I really thought we were better than that.”

The number is especially dismal when compared to county neighbors, like Lac qui Parle County and Meeker County where almost 95 percent of households have access to at least 10 megabits of download speed and 6 megabits of upload speed, which is the state’s threshold measurement for being fast enough to provide the kind of services that businesses, residents and tele-commuters need.  

Commissioner Dean Shuck, from Sunburg, said the lack of high-speed Internet is the subject of most of the complaints he fields from constituents.

The Legislature approved $20 million in funding this year for the border-to-border broadband grant to help bring adequate broadband Internet service to communities that are underserved or unserved by the year 2015.

At their meeting Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners agreed to conduct a survey of two to three townships to find gather more data on the type of Internet speeds that are currently available and to get an idea of where the gaps are.

The initial plan was to survey the entire county, but the cost was prohibitive, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

The county intends to apply for a piece of the state grant.

It’s expected the state will provide a handful of grants, with a maximum of $5 million per grant. Each grant from the state requires at least a 50 percent match in private or public money.

The newly created Minnesota Office of Broadband Development will conduct a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Montevideo to provide information about how to apply for a state grant.

Dean Bouta, who has been involved with Internet infrastructure issues in the county for decades and is also a member of the Vision 2040 broadband committee, said some rural communities are able to have broadband because service is provided by a cooperative that’s willing to invest in a community, especially if they are the sole communications provider in a region.

In Kandiyohi County there are three separate companies that serve different parts of the county. Bouta said that can make collaboration difficult.

Kleindl said bringing broadband to rural Minnesota is as important to the economy as it was to bring electricity to farms and small towns in the 1900s.

He said if the electrical campaign went as slow as the broadband installation is going, there would still be homes in Minnesota without access to electricity.

“We need to work, and we need to work hard to get the holes and gaps taken care of in Kandiyohi County,” said Kleindl.

Being unserved or underserved when it comes to broadband Internet does not necessarily mean Internet service is not available at all. Oftentimes there is Internet service but the speed is too slow to meet the universal goals for supporting a healthy economy.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke said the county needs to have better Internet speed and service to bring the 25- to 40-year-olds back home. “We can’t keep on this way,” he said.

Kleindl said broadband will also play a vital role in the future for telemedicine that could allow people to receive medical care through an online doctor visit, which he said will be very beneficial for elderly rural residents.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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