FCC: Minnesota under the average for broadband access

Minnesota, which has set lofty goals for broadband access and which has a state task force working on ways to improve it, came out below average in this week’s annual broadband report by the Federal Communications Commission.

For eight years, the FCC has been preparing a yearly report on the state of high-speed access to the Internet, something it and lots of other people think is a necessity, the equivalent of electricity in the previous century.

Over that time, the number of Americans without access has shrunk, even though the threshold for what counts as broadband access has gotten faster. As people keep wanting to do more on the Internet, that’s good news, even though the FCC concludes again this year that “broadband is not yet being deployed ‘to all Americans’ in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Minnesota has reflected the general trend. All kinds of public and private projects are increasing speeds to residents. But 8 percent of the state’s residents do not have access, the new report says. That’s well more than 400,000 people and higher than the national figure of 6 percent.

Among the states with better access, at least by that measure, are Iowa (7.1 percent don’t have access), Wisconsin (6.9 percent), Oregon (3.4 percent) and Washington (3.2 percent). Minnesota ranks ahead of North Dakota (15.9 percent without access), South Dakota (21.1 percent) and Mississippi (12.1 percent), to name a few.

That figure is partly a factor of how rural a state is, but even when you control for that Minnesota doesn’t improve much in the standings. Among rural Minnesotans, 27.7 percent do not have access. Nationally the figure is only 23.7 percent of rural residents without access.

Otter Tail is listed in the FCC report as the Minnesota county with the most residents without high-speed Internet access — nearly 29,000, which is half the county.

I wrote Thursday about how the tiny community of Cloquet Valley north of Duluth is a good example for the 19 million Americans who don’t have high-speed access to the Internet.

It’s worth noting that precise year-over-year comparisons are difficult because the FCC shifted how it determines access. The method it used last year showed Minnesota performing better than the national average, but the FCC said it thinks its new approach is more reliable.

One new feature of the national report is an interactive map showing county-level information on who’s getting access to the Internet via cable, via DSL and via fixed wireless.

Zoom in and then scroll over the map to learn, for example, that in Benton County near St. Cloud, cable and fixed wireless services cover about the same number of households, substantially outpacing DSL. Farther west in Kandiyohi County, DSL is the leading kind of service.

broadband availability map 8-23-12.jpg

It will be telling at the end of the year when the state broadband task force delivers a set of recommendations aimed at improving Minnesota’s standing.

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