New figures have laid bare the huge disparity in broadband speeds between those living in the Twins Cities and those living in rural Minnesota.
A report by Connect Minnesota has highlighted the impact slow internet speeds is having not only on individuals, but also the toll it is taken on small businesses, the Pioneer Press reports.
It reveals that just 0.06 percent of residents in rural northern Minnesota Aitkin County have access to a high-speed internet service, compared to 97 percent of those living in Anoka County in the Metro area.
Other areas highlighted in the report include just 16 percent of households in Douglas County, in west-central Minnesota, have high-speed broadband, but nearby Stevens County, home to the University of Minnesota-Morris, has 99 percent availability.
"It's a big need and the one problem we have," Justin Dukek of Captive Advertising in Bagley, Minnesota, told a recent Greater Minnesota Partnership meeting. "For a lot of our design work, we need to communicate with customers. It's frustrating because we want to be here."
Grant funding not enough
Demand for faster internet service is great. This year the state created a $20 million grant fund to help areas of the state improve their online speeds. The Star Tribune reports that $44.2 million worth of bids were submitted by counties, companies and cooperatives.
But $20 million is a drop in the ocean compared to what's needed, with officials telling the Pioneer Press that $3 billion is needed from private, foundation and government sources to bridge the gap between city and rural broadband speeds.
The majority of grant requests came from rural parts of the state, including Lake County in northeastern Minnesota, and the Halstad Telephone Company in northwest.
Reducing online inequality is one of the key issues that the new Republican majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives intends to tackle, according to MinnPost.
Greater Minnesota Partnership president Gary Evans told the website: "Greater Minnesota is where the [political] shift occurred, and I also think that that shift is somewhat directly proportional to a dissatisfaction in Greater Minnesota relative to the amount of money spent outside the metro area as opposed to inside it."
Overall, 63 percent of homes outside the Twin Cities have access to the slowest acceptable internet speeds set by standards legislators of 10 megabits per second download speed and 6 megabits per second upload speed. In the Twin Cities, this figure is 78 percent, the Pioneer Press reports.