Mille Lacs County Broadband 2014 Update: Lots of adoptions programming, but need more deployment

mille lacsFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Mille Lacs County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 14.9
  • Number of Households: 10,166
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 44.03%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 55.99%

*note: for the  eagle eye readers, I am sneaking Mille Lacs in out of alphabetical order upon request. (I will get back to Koochiching next.) A colleague is gathering info on Mille Lacs so this info is helpful to her and she was able to share some with me – so we get a very complete look at Mille Lacs. (Also – if you have info you want me to include on a county please feel free to send it!

The schools in Mille Lacs are good users of broadband; Marc Erickson of ECMECC spoke recently about their work at the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting. The problem Marc points out is that while the schools are generally well served, students have uneven access at home. If they live in town, they have affordable, decent access; if they outside of town their options are limited an expensive. This makes is difficult for teachers to base homework on having access – although think of an assignment that wouldn’t benefit from broadband access.

Mille Lacs has been working on boosting broadband adoption through participation in the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program. I learned at one of the BBC meetings that affordability is a big issue in Mille Lacs. Not only is affordability always an issue with non-adopters but broadband connection start at $75 per month in the area – where a similar connection might be $50 per month in the Twin Cities. They are working on programs that would provide low income homes with free computers through PCs for People and free or reduced broadband access – at least for a trial period. But the other side of the issue is that poverty rates in Mille Lacs County are high…

The unemployment rate is higher in Mille Lacs County than the state, and has been that way for quite some time. Onamia and Mille Lacs County also have much lower labor force participation rates than the state – only about 51.8% of the adult population in Onamia is in the labor force, as compared to 64.5% in Mille Lacs County and 70.3% in Minnesota. Female labor force participation rates are also much lower in Onamia (52.4%) and Mille Lacs County (60.7%) than in the state (66.4%).

Part of that is due to the city and county’s older population; but it is also due to the city and county’s lower educational attainment rates. Just 83.2% of Onamia adults aged 25 years and over had at least a high school diploma and just 14.6% had a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to 92.1% and 32.6% statewide, respectively. However, Onamia (25.7%) and Mille Lacs County (26.5%) did have a higher percentage of adults with some college, no degree than the state (22.3%); and a competitive percentage of people with an associate’s degree (9.2%, 9.9%, and 10.3%, respectively). But the region really lags in higher educational attainment.

This has led to lower incomes in the city and county, especially as compared to the state. The median household income in Onamia was $30,391 in 2013, which was significantly lower than in Mille Lacs County ($47,862) and the state ($59,836). Consequently, Onamia had a much higher percentage of households receiving cash public assistance income (16.0%) and food stamp/SNAP benefits (23.6%) than Mille Lacs County (3.1% and 9.4% respectively) and the state (3.5% and 8.2%).

The largest employing industry in Onamia is Leisure and Hospitality, accounting for over 60% of total employment in the 3rd quarter of 2014. Though it has many job opportunities, it is also one of the lowest-paying industries…

According to ReferenceUSA, the largest employers in Onamia are:

Organization Name                                         Employee Size                  

Grand Casino Mille Lacs                                 1000-4999 employees

Mille Lacs Band Corporate Commission  500-999 employees

Mille Lacs Hospital                                           250-499 employees

Mille Lacs Academy                                         100-249 employees

Mille Lacs Health System                              100-249 employees

Nay-Ah-Shing School                                      100-249 employees

Onamia School District                                   100-249 employees

As you’ll notice, the largest employers are the casino and a bunch of public sector education and health care service providers. Therefore, these are obviously the main employment opportunities for workers in Onamia: gaming workers, cashiers, recreation workers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, dishwashers, and maids and housekeeping cleaners; as well as personal care aides, home health aides, CNAs, LPNs, RNs, child care workers, and teachers. There are other opportunities, but they would be pretty limited outside the areas of leisure and hospitality and education and health services. There may be small numbers of jobs in public administration, manufacturing, construction, and trade, transportation, and utilities. A quick look at provides more evidence – most of the jobs currently posted in Mille Lacs County are in health care (PCAs, CNAs, LPNs, and RNs, as well as EMTs and Physician Assistants), child care, cooking and housekeeping, and a couple manufacturing positions. The largest number of jobs are posted by Mille Lacs Health System, Elim Care, and Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

This looks like an opportunity to use broadband  to lift up this whole community. Broadband could help with education (and the roots are there to support it!). Broadband can open the door to new employment opportunities – as we’ve seen in Otter Tail County. And my lifting up a county that needs the support the whole state reaps benefits in increased productivity and decreased expense for services provided.

Broadband deployment has been a tough problem to solve in Mille Lacs County. They are part of the East Central Broadband Initiative, working on broadband in the area through planning and convening. But they still sit with approximately have the county unserved.

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 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.

This entry was posted in County Profiles (2015), MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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