Minnesota Broadband and Biz: August 2012

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Blandin on BroadbandBy Ann Treacy, Blandin on Broadband

In its annual 706 report, the FCC declared that broadband is not yet being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion and indicated that in Minnesota 8 percent of the population does not have access to fixed broadband.

That is a far cry from the goal of ubiquitous broadband by 2015 set out by the Minnesota Broadband bill. The statistics are even more alarming when you look at the rural versus non-rural difference. In non-rural areas the percentage is .8 percent; in rural areas that percentage climbs to 27.7 percent.  The shortcoming are further reflected in Akamai’s 2012 State of the Internet Report, which didn’t bode well for Minnesota.

In the last month, the Blandin on Broadband blog has highlighted several stories on how rural and non-rural communities in Minnesota are expanding access to and use of broadband:

  • The Anoka County fiber project is about 75 percent finished deploying their ARRA-supported fiber to 145 anchor institutions in the area; completion is expected in October 2012.
  • Kittson County is celebrating the ARRA-funded fiber network being installed in their community, comparing the infrastructure upgrade to electrification in the 1930’s.
  • Lake County is receiving more attention for its efforts to expand broadband in their area. Incumbent providers question the wisdom of government-backed programs, while local residents talk about the need for improved access.
  • Redwood County has been looking at improved broadband access for some time. In August, they selected Compass Consulting to perform a broadband feasibility study for the community.

Innovative uses of broadband in rural areas:

  • Through a partnership Sioux Falls-based Avera Health system, LakeWood Health Center in Baudette uses telemedicine technology to provide additional e-Emergency services.  Avera currently works with 9 pharmacies in Minnesota and expects to work with 16 hospitals in Minnesota by the end of September.
  • Working with Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative, Benton County strives to improve use of broadband by local businesses by offering online marketing classes that target business users and creating a What’s Up in Foley? website that features local businesses.
  • Also working with Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative, Cook County has focused on making their local tourism websites more mobile-friendly. The effort has been successful; visitors are spending more time on the sites, an important factor for a community where 70 percent of the local economy is tied to tourism.