Pennington County Broadband 2014 Update: 92% coverage despite $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone

penningtonI’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 Pennington County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 9.4
  • Number of Households: 5,836
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 91.64%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 91.64%

Pennington is doing pretty well. And we have a unique look at the situation in Pennington because it was used as an example in the last Minnesota Task Force report to demonstrate the inequity in cost to a provider to connect to the Internet backbone based on location…

A provider in metropolitan Hennepin County currently pays about $.50 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone; the average cost of three providers in rural Pennington County is $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone.

Making the situation more challenging for all providers, there is a great discrepancy in the number of potential customers in Hennepin County versus Pennington County; population density in Hennepin County is 2,081.7/sq. mi and in Pennington County it is 22.6/sq. mi. Median income (2009-2013) also differs: in Hennepin County it is $64,403 and in Pennington County it’s $45,633. For these reasons and more, the business case for offering broadband in Pennington County Falls is far more challenging than in Hennepin County.

Using Pennington as the example also demonstrates that while it’s tougher to make a business case, clearly someone has. Pennington is better served that many other counties.

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.

1 thought on “Pennington County Broadband 2014 Update: 92% coverage despite $15.33 per Megabit to connect to the Internet backbone

  1. I’ve heard many people, including CEOs from other Telcos, claim that bandwidth is available in the Twin Cities for $0.50/Mbps. Technically, it is true, but, in reality it doesn’t work that way, at least for quality providers.

    Hurricane Electric has offered 10Gbps Ethernet for $5,000/month (or less) for a while. Hurricane is a company with a good reputation, good network, and is well connected. (There are other providers also in that price range, some do not have such a good reputation).

    10,000Mbps for $5,000/month sure sounds like $0.50/Mbps right? Maybe, but, you really can’t fill an ethernet to 100% capacity and provide quality service to your end users. I think that most good providers start looking at adding capacity when they start getting around the 60% utilization range. That changes the cost to closer to $0.80/Mbps.

    Additionally, a quality provider is not going to have a single connection to the internet. They will have enough capacity available to handle a failure of any single connection. i.e. Even a very small provider probably needs at least two connections. Now the cost starts looking closer to $1.60/Mbps.

    Any provider will have backhaul costs to get the traffic to their end users. That cost in Hennepin county will likely be much lower than in a rural area due to greater fiber availability, but it is still a cost that all providers pay. This cost applies whether a provider uses their network or somebody elses.

    Also, there are often fees for cross-connects, co-location space, power etc.

    I’m sure that costs are significantly higher in Pennington County than in Hennepin County, but even in Hennepin County the real costs are significantly greater than $0.50/Mbps.

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