A look at Minnesota’s broadband divide

Broadband access is now a legal right in Finland. In Minnesota, not so much.

A recent state report urged Minnesota to do more to get citizens online at high speed. While the report found most citizens have some access to broadband, many aren’t bringing into their homes, especially in rural Minnesota.

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We asked Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network to tell us a little about their Web connections and why it was important. We were surprised to hear stories of people in greater Minnesota still dealing with dial-up.

Others told us lack of competition was a problem in some areas of the state, keeping the price unaffordable. Solutions? Some said the government needs to do something. Others, tired of government spending, said that was the last thing needed.

There wasn’t much argument, however, about the need.

“Access to high speed internet is as important to me as access to a railroad was to my great-grandparents when they homesteaded here,” said Brent Olson of Ortonville, a writer and Big Stone County commissioner. Service, he added, is “very spotty, depending on which phone or cable provider you have.”

Mitch Jasper, the mayor of Jackson, said he and others are pulling together a group of towns in southwestern Minnesota “to band (no pun intended) together to apply for monies through the stimulus.This plan is to put fiber optics in every home and every business.”

3/8 UPDATE: Jackson and those Minnesota towns scored nearly $13 million in federal stimulus money for their broadband project.

Click on the map icons below to see what others in our Network had to say.

Click the little box on the upper right hand corner of the map to see it in full screen.

Lois Garbisch, a home manager from Cook, laid out the frustrations of a slow connection in a fast world.

I have dial up with an accelerator. Dial up would be intolerable without that. In town and at the lake there is Quest DSL, which I’ve heard is quite fast. But for the rest of us, our choices are only satellite, which is expensive and not all that fast, and by radio signal, which has an expensive set up charge. I’m only a mile from the edge of town but Qwest won’t bring broadband to our road.

That’s an issue MPR’s Dan Olson noted in his recent report. Money is a big factor determining how soon more Minnesotans will have faster Internet speeds.

Companies selling Internet services prefer to have a batch of subscribers ready to sign up before they start installing the infrastructure.

The state task force urged that Minnesota become one of the national leaders in broadband access and use by 2015. They didn’t say how to pay for it but called on the public and private sectors to work together.

It wasn’t that long ago that broadband, high speed Web service was a luxury. Not any more.

“High speed internet service permits more working at home which is good for the environment and increases an individuals productivity,” said Doreen Mahoney, a Network source and real estate lien search supervisor in Nisswa.

For her, that means, “I will be able to provide care to my elderly parent at home which also avoids senior care expenses and improves my mothers quality of life and keeps her healthier and happier.”

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