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Report: 1 in 5 rural MN homes can't get high-speed Internet

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Five years ago, the state of Minnesota set a goal: By 2015, every Minnesota resident and business should have access to high-speed internet.

So with that deadline now passed, where are we?

The Governor's Task Force on Broadband – formed in 2011 and charged with encouraging the spread of high-speed Internet throughout the state – released its 2015 report Wednesday. (You can read the full report here.)

Their findings? As of February 2015, the state had not met its goal.

About 91 percent of all Minnesota households have access to minimum 10Mbps download/5 Mbps upload plans.

In rural Minnesota, 80 percent of households hit that mark – meaning one in every five don't have access to those speeds.

To help get there, the task force made a handful of recommendations, including putting aside $200 million during the upcoming fiscal year to increase broadband access.

Why is faster Internet important?

Technology is being relied upon more and more for services, the task force says.

Residents go to their local library to get access to high-speed Internet, that allows them to take online courses or submit things online. (One note from the report: Minnesotans conducted 5,594,135 Internet sessions from libraries last year.)

It's being increasingly used in healthcare, where the telemedicine industry is quickly growing. That includes real-time audio and video conferencing (HD video teleconferencing needs a minimum of 4 Mbps download and upload), as well as the transmission of large images and files.

For example, during an Iron Range meeting in December, Steve Howard of Paul Bunyan Communications pointed out that Balsam Clinic is currently forced to download X-Rays via a cellphone hotspot.

Small businesses (Forbes dug in to a report, which concluded doubling broadband speed for an economy increases its economic output by 0.3 percent), the agriculture industry, and – with the rise of the "Internet of Things" – even homeowners can benefit from high-speed access, the task force says.

"Minnesota’s future economic vitality depends on the degree to which Minnesota’s residents, public
institutions, and businesses are connected to high-speed Internet," the report says.

Where would that $200 million go?

That money would go toward the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program – a state program that divvies up money to help unserved or underserved rural Minnesota communities get access to faster Internet.

Last year, nearly $11 million was doled out, split between 15 rural areas. But a total of 44 applications, with requests worth $30.5 million, were actually sent in – demonstrating the demand.

The $200 million would be a significant increase (and actually is the same figure the task force suggested nearly a year ago). But it's still just a "fraction" of what's needed for the state to meet its Border-to-Border goals, the task force wrote in Wednesday's report.

In addition, the task force also recommended:

  • Updating the state's speed goals.
  • Creating an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote high-speed adoption and use.
  • Increase telecommunication aid for schools and libraries.
  • Expanding an existing sales tax exemption to include such equipment.
  • Reforming state regulations of the industry, and looking for permitting "efficiencies."

What an you do with those speeds?

A quick math note – there are 8 megabits in 1 megabyte, according to the National Broadband Map website.

A digital song usually comes in at around 4 megabytes, while a movie is about 6,144 megabytes, according to the National Broadband Map website.

Let’s say you have a download speed of 5 megabits per second (Mbps).

With that, you’d be able to download an average song in about 3 seconds. If you were at 25 Mbps, it’d be about 0.6 seconds. At 1,000 Mbps – which the Paul Bunyan project could offer – that song will be on your computer in well under a second.

At 25 Mbps, you could download a movie in about 16 minutes – at 50 Mbps you’re at 8 minutes . At 1,000 Mbps, it’s less than a half-minute.

Your upload speed works the exact same way – but it’s for sending out or uploading files (like say, a YouTube video) rather than downloading them.

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