Broadband availability rises again

Nearly 70 percent of Minnesota households now have available the kind of  high-speed Internet access that the state says they should.

The latest semi-annual report from Connect Minnesota today said that 69.2 percent of households have access to download speeds of at least 10 megabits per second and upload speeds of six megabits per second. That’s up from 61.6 percent a half year ago and represents a faster rise in those numbers than the state has experienced in recent measurements.

Minnesota lawmakers several years ago approved a goal to make these speeds available to all Minnesotans by 2015. Although Internet users don’t need connections that fast for handling email or browsing the web, they do if they want to stream video or play a lot of interactive games.

The areas not served at those speeds are almost entirely rural, and Connect Minnesota, the organization charged with tracking the numbers, will have county-by-county numbers available soon.  A number of projects around the state, including some federally financed stimulus projects, have gradually been expanding the area served by high-speed fiber.

The expanding footprint of mobile access by big providers like Verizon and AT&T also is a factor. If broadband is defined more slowly — 10 megabits down and three megabits up and mobile is included — then 97 percent of household have broadband available, Connect Minnesota said.

Rep. Sheldon Johnson, DFL-St. Paul, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the numbers. Johnson was a sponsor of legislation in the session just ended that created a broadband development office in the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Lawmakers appropriated $700,000 for two years and charged the three-person office with recommending steps for the state to achieve its speed goals.