Beltrami County Broadband 2014 Update: Nearly ubiquitous coverage but not quite there

beltramiIn November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Beltrami County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 5.5
  • Number of Households: 16,846
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 98.46%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 98.46%

Beltrami County is close to meeting the 2015 speed goals, which is impressive for a county with a household density of 5.5. The county seat is Bemidji, which is a town of some size. It’s a beautiful area of the state; home to a lot of lakes and resorts. Paul Bunyan and Arvig are two independent providers that serve portions of the county.

Paul Bunyan offers a number of packages that surpass the broadband speeds as defined by the state. (Their top listed services is symmetrical 150 Mbps.) Late in 2013, Paul Bunyan announced plans to upgrade their network…

Paul Bunyan Communications has increased Broadband Internet speeds to members, doubling the current speeds of service offered with no increase to the monthly service rate.  In addition, higher speeds up to 150 Mbps are also now available, the cooperative announced today. Standard Internet speed for Paul Bunyan high-speed customers starts now with up to 20 megabits per second (Mbps) for both uploads and downloads with higher speeds available. …

The service area currently spans over 4,500 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis County.

The folks in (and around) Bemidji have been focused on broadband. Senator Schmit hosted a listening session there in November 2013…

Attendees recognized that broadband coverage is uneven. Areas served by Paul Bunyan Telephone are well served, but just a few miles outside of Crookston you might have no broadband no cell coverage. Park Rapids is OK. Northern part of county out of luck. Red Lake is not well served – it’s hard territory. …

Sally Fineday, member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and broadband advocate also spoke about the needs on the reservations. Broadband access on the reservations is 64 percent; compared to 97-98 percent throughout the rest of the US.

Beltrami seems like a microcosm of access in the state. A lot of good work has been done. Money has been invested. The public has shown support for the effort but more work is needed to reach the folks on the very far edge of the digital divide.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage…

How does Minnesota define broadband?

The 2015 broadband goal for Minnesota is ubiquitous access to speeds of 10-20 Mbps (down) and 5-10 Mbps (up). These numbers actually reflect 6-10 Mbps up because Minnesota goals are a little out of sync with standard federal measurements. Connect MN measured access with and without including mobile access as it is often considered a slightly different service, in part because of the data caps involved with wireless services. (Data caps can make wireless an expensive primary broadband connection – especially for a household.)

Learn how the other Minnesota counties rank.

How is Minnesota working to promote border to border broadband?

In 2014, the Legislature approved $20 million for broadband grants to support broadband expansion in Minnesota. You can find a list of applicants online. The hope is the broadband sector is that more funding will be made available in 2015.

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