Connect Minnesota maps tell a story

Earlier this week the Minneapolis Star Tribune published a story about the Connect Minnesota maps calling out their flaws…

The report acknowledges that “statewide estimates do not necessarily reflect the reality faced by each Minnesota community.” In addition, Commerce Department commissioner Mike Rothman described the report in modest terms: “This data provides a baseline and is a first step in an ongoing process.”

But critics go further and say that the report’s speed claims are way off.

This issue is that the maps indicate that 94 percent of Minnesota households have access to broadband (as defined by 3 Mbps) and folks disagree with that assessment.

Geoff Daily wrote an article earlier this week on the National Broadband Maps ($300 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy Broadband Map). Some of his points are compelling and seem to reflect issues brought up by the Star Tribune. He remarked, “In terms of the data itself, it’s hard not to feel like it’s really incomplete and somewhat inaccurate.”

I don’t really disagree with either accusation on the accuracy. There has been concerns all along with the fact that Connect Minnesota gets its data from the providers – but so far I haven’t heard of a better, realistic way to do it. So for this year, I think we have the best maps we could realistically get and the maps are definitely accurate enough to highlight underserved areas.

Moving forward, I think it’s up to us to help make the maps better by testing the speeds ourselves and reporting in. From what I have seen, Connect Minnesota is very responsive when users have voiced specific issues with the maps.

Perhaps the other issue is the perceived value of the statewide percentage of household availability. Looking at the maps that track household broadband availability by county gives a better picture of the issues in Minnesota. The Twin Cities (which includes a great percentage of households in the state) is covered 95-100 percent according the map (included here). Counties such as Cook, Aitkin, Mahnomen, Redwood, Lincoln, Pipestone and Rock are hovering around 40-60% coverage. That tells the story.

Communities have been able to pick up that story, learn from it and are using it to urge action. Redwood County is one example. In that way, Connect Minnesota has done a great job. Their maps are getting people talking about broadband, understanding the implications of broadband and reacting to improve their standing. That’s valuable.

One caveat is that in Minnesota, these maps should be used to track our progress towards our goal of ubiquity. I think the maps do provide a disservice if there’s a chance that someone is going to say that 94 percent is good enough.

This entry was posted in MN, Policy, Rural and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

5 thoughts on “Connect Minnesota maps tell a story

  1. I read a blog recently by [app.rising@gmail.com] entitled “$300 Million And All I Got Was This Lousy Broadband Map”.  The blogger was writing about a U.S. Department of Commerce initiative to map availability of broadband internet service across the country.  A National Broadband Map costing millions was just recently released, and the blogger questions its accuracy and usefulness.  So too in Minnesota our own Department of Commerce this week released its report on “Minnesota Broadband Availability”, claiming that almost 97% of Minnesota households are “served” today with low-speed versions of Internet service (768 Kbps Download/200 Kbps Upload), and that almost 94% are served with high-speed (3 Mbps Download).  This sounds pretty good.  But analysis leaves great doubt.  For one thing, the data in the report comes principally from broadband service providers, who sell the service to consumers.  This alone does not make the report suspect, but the data received is limited in scope.  First, it appears to simply report the maximum bandwidth available at the providers’ central office, which says nothing about what can actually be delivered to the household.  Over lines dedicated to a single business it may be possible to get service at the higher end of the broadband availability scale – 3 Mbps or higher.  Households, however, share Internet traffic on their lines, with the result that they usually are unable to deliver this same capacity. Second, much of the wireline infrastructure serving households in this State are aging and simply is not capable of delivering high speed bandwidth.  Third, there is no data on the price of broadband service offered.  A rural Minnesota household can’t be said to have broadband service “availability” if it’s too expensive for anyone to afford.   In short, the Minnesota report seems to focus on advertised broadband speeds rather than actual speeds being realized by consumers.  At best the report helps to provide some insight into the areas of the State with little or no service, but perhaps not much more.  Hopefully, the Minnesota Department of Commerce will regard this report as a start, with a plan to issue a more robust rendition of broadband availability in the future.

  2. Yes I mention the App Rising article above. It was interesting – and written by a former Minnesotan (or transplanted Minnesotan).

    I think these maps are definitely a start. I know that Connect MN spot checks the info supplied by the providers – but they can’t check everywhere. That’s why it’s up to us to check out own locations and locations we visit across the state. The goos news is that it’s easy to provide feedback to the map makers and in my experience they are happy to incorporate it.

  3. Thanks for the analysis of the Connect Minnesota maps. They are a start, and I hope they will be expanded upon. From working in the inner city of Minneapolis and listening to colleagues in Greater Minnesota, the optimistic report of 94% access doesn’t meet with research data or with reported experience.

    Here are the numbers that have my attention.

    The Center for Rural Policy & Development, based in St. Peter, MN, does a periodic phone survey of Minnesota households to assess home Internet access. The resulta released this past summer in the show the following:
    *Statewide, 70% report having Internet access via broadband.
    *In Greater Minnesota, 65% of households report having Internet access via broadband.
    Source: 2010 Minnesota Internet Study
    News Release: http://www.mnsu.edu/ruralmn/news/broadband2010.php
    Study: http://www.mnsu.edu/ruralmn/pages/Publications/reports/2010%20Minn%20Internet%20Study.pdf

    Based on U.S. Census data released earlier this year, 60% of U.S. residents have Internet access via broadband at home, and 40% do not. The percentage without access is even higher for those who are older or have low income, low education, or disability.

    For public policy and planning purposes, let’s hope for

  4. Mary Ann,

    The only hiccup is that the lower percentages reflect adoption, not access – at least in the recent MN Internet Study. The 94 percent reflect availability. So 94% have access to broadband, but only 70 (or 65) percent choose to get broadband.

    I think reaching those people – the people who have access but don’t take advantage of it, is key. Some cite cost as an issue, many don’t have computers – but I think education can make a difference.

    Thx! Ann

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