WILLMAR — One of the lessons learned so far during this pandemic is how important internet accessibility is, especially when so much of life is being done from home. Remote work, distance learning and entertainment have all jumped online and those households with slow internet, or in some cases no access at all, have found themselves struggling to keep up and stay connected.

"This is important, people need it to work from home, connect with family members, do school work," said Connie Schmoll, business development manager with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

Schmoll presented at Tuesday's Kandiyohi County Board meeting, to ask county residents to complete the MN Speed Test Initiative, a statewide testing of internet speeds lead by the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.

At the start of the pandemic the EDC sent out a survey about county residents' internet usage and access. The survey was answered by 351 households and the vast majority of them, 78 percent, said they had one or two people working from home and 48 percent had students doing distance learning.

When it came to access, the majority were not happy with the service available. Approximately 65 percent said their internet was not meeting their needs, while 97 responders said they were relying on public internet access or hot spots at locations other than their homes. This includes parking in front of public libraries to use the available internet.

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"That is not acceptable," Schmoll said.

For years, the EDC has been working to expand high-speed internet to rural areas of the county, by completing feasibility studies, applying for grants and working with internet providers. Schmoll said those providers want to see specific data on area needs before they will look at doing a project. The hope is the data collected through the speed test will also prove helpful when speaking with state legislators and applying for grants and funding.

"If you all do the speed test, it will give us the data we need today to get moving on the broadband," Schmoll said. "We need to have home-by-home detail."

When completing the test, households are asked to enter their address or partial address. The website then tests the home's download and upload speeds. People can also enter the address of a residence that has no available service. The data collected includes average speeds, internet providers, regions where the tests took place and whether the residence meets the state goal for access.

By 2022 the state wants all residents to have access to internet speeds of 25 megabytes per second download and 3 Mbps upload. In 2026 that goal increases to 100 Mbps download and 25 Mbps upload.

Households can take the speed test more than once and the system will report the average of all those tests. It might be helpful to test internet speed at different times of day or when several devices are in use.

"The average household has seven to 10 devices going at any one time," Schmoll said. "Do your test with those things going, because that is the reality, that is what you need."

The county commissioners urged their constituents, especially those who live in rural areas, to participate in the speed test.

"Without their cooperation we won't get the data we need to show the state and grant writers that we really need it," said Commissioner Rollie Nissen. "It is critical that we get the data we need, so we can apply for grants and be successful."