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Minnesota has made significant progress in increasing the percentage of households with broadband Internet service. But geographic, age and income barriers pose challenges to reaching the goal of being in the nation's top-five states.

Most Minnesota homes have broadband, but barriers remain

State Commerce Commissioner Michael Rothman and representatives of nonprofit Connect Minnesota issued a report Thursday detailing the state’s efforts to increase penetration of broadband to state households.

Minnesota’s goal of becoming a top-five state reflects a wish to keep up with ever-faster home computer and mobile smart-phone technology. One example is Richfield-based Best Buy Co. Inc.’s partnership with Kirkland, Wash.-based Clearwire to provide faster smart-phone service in 2011.

According to the new report, 85 percent of all households have a home computer. Of that number 72 percent of those have broadband service – higher than national surveys that indicate broadband penetration of 67 percent.

Phillip Brown, national policy director for Connected Nation, a broadband advocacy group that is the parent of Connect Minnesota, said Minnesota received $248 million in economic stimulus funding to rank in the top 10 states nationwide.

Stimulus-funded projects include $16.8 million to Enventis Telecom Inc.’s broadband infrastructure improvements in Detroit Lakes, Luverne and Hinckley, and $5.9 million to the Carver County Open Fiber Initiative that was designed to build a high-speed fiber optic network.

The Obama administration designated $7.2 billion to improve broadband as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed in February 2008.

Of the 28 percent of Minnesota households without high-speed service, 7 percent use dial-up service, 10 percent access the Internet from other locations, 2 percent don’t know if their service is dial-up or broadband, and 9 percent do not use the Internet.

Rothman said a connection speed of 768 kilobits per second is considered as broadband, and just 2.8 percent of Minnesota households are considered “underserved” by that measure.

But that percentage of households increases in homes with 3-megabit-per-second broadband service available.

At the 3 megabit-per-second speed, more than 40 percent of households in six Minnesota counties are underserved. Those counties – Lincoln, Pipestone, Rock, Aitkin, Redwood and Mahnomen – are in the southwestern or northern part of the state.

By contrast, the Federal Communications Commission estimated in late 2010 that 4-megabit broadband speeds are available to virtually all households in just six metropolitan area counties – Anoka, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington Counties.

Increasing broadband speed is significant because Minnesota lawmakers specified 10 kilobit-per-second service in 2015, which is much faster than current download rates. The current 3-megabit service level is available to 84 percent of homes in the state.

Connect Minnesota partnered with Rothman’s Department of Commerce to conduct the survey to develop a plan to target underserved areas in the state, said Brown of Connected Nation.

Among the challenges in broadband expansion are adults 65 and older and low-income households.

The report found that 53 percent of those 65 and older have home computers, but just 39 percent have broadband Internet service. Of the 46 percent of low-income households that have computers, 35 percent have broadband access.

Brown said data in the report will be continually updated, with the first content update expected on April 1.


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