Minnesota pushes to make broadband access statewide by 2015

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While many urban residents now take high-speed Internet access for granted, its arrival in remote parts of Minnesota is cause for celebration among rural business owners. But bringing broadband to the parts of the state that still lack it will take a concerted effort - one that some critics doubt is worth the expense.

The Associated Press points to jewelry maker Jean Menden of Lac Qui Parle County as an example of a business owner who has benefited from a faster, more reliable Internet connection. Menden, who fills orders from around the world, tells the wire service that watching a 10-minute silversmithing tutorial online could take up to two hours with her old balky connection. Now the new high-speed connection in Byron, Minnesota, allows her to keep her digital storefront in top shape.

But the AP reports that federal grants and loans for expanding broadband service are drying up and providers are showing less interest in extending the service to the remaining areas that are without it.

A Minnesota law sets 2015 as the target for statewide access, though. Achieving that will be a focus for Danna MacKenzie, who was named executive director of the new Office of Broadband Development last week. The group Connect Minnesota, which is hosting a statewide summit meeting in Roseville this week, estimates more than 900,000 Minnesotans - 22 percent of the adult population - do not have broadband service at home.

Nationally, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a report in November touting progress in expanding high-speed Internet service. The report Broadband Availability in the Workplace says in a year the percentage of American jobs served by a high-speed connection rose from 56 percent to 75 percent.

The AP story says in recent years federal grants and loans have paid for more than 100,000 miles of improved Internet connections across Minnesota.

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