Who are bottom 10 MN Counties for Broadband Ranking? And why?

Last week I posted MN Broadband Profiles for each county. Today I want to dig into the those reports to see if we can find some trends in the top counties.

Here we’ll look at the top ranked MN Counties for speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up (100/20), the MN broadband speed goal for 2026:

100/20 speeds 2019 Rank 2019 Change in Rank Blandin*
MN grant 2019 apps HH Density
Yellow Medicine 38.86 78 -9 y 2 2 5.6
Todd 38.68 79 2 y 2 1 10
Aitkin 37.74 80 2 y 2 3 4
Pine 37.26 81 -13 y 1 0 7.9
Otter Tail 35.34 82 5 10 3 10.8
Redwood 33.56 83 -11 y 3 2 7.5
Kanabec 26.93 84 -17 y 1 0 12
Norman 20.62 85 -5 0 0 3.3
Mahnomen 17.31 86 -2 1 1 3.5
Becker 6.22 87 -2 1 0 9.2

There are factors that can hinder broadband progress in a county, such as household density and lack of provider competition. There are factors that can help broadband progress such as public funding and community support. But for each county the barrier is different, as is the support. For community leaders and policymakers, it can be valuable to recognize both the barriers and potential support because unlike the top county list which saw little change this year, the bottoms list includes four new entries (Yellow Medicine, Pine, Redwood and Kanabec).

Also I might caution counties that rank well for access to 25/3 (the 2022 speed goal) to pay attention to what’s going on in their community. Do they have potential barriers they might work on now?

Fast Facts about the Bottom Ten Counties for 100/20 broadband access

  • 2 are in lowest 10 rank for household density ranking (Norman and Mahnomen)
  • 9 have ten or fewer households per square mile (Otter Tail has 10.8)
  • 9 have received MN broadband grants (Norman hasn’t)
  • 6 have applied for MN broadband grants in 2019
  • 6 have worked with the Blandin Foundation

Household Density

As noted in the report of the top counties, household density matters. You pay per mile for the wire (or fiber as the case is for future-looking networks) and you pay to dig the trench, to pull the wire; so the longer the distance, the more you pay. Then once the network is built, there aren’t as many customers to serve. And providing technical support can be more difficult when there are greater distances between customers. So, it’s difficult to recoup cost and make a profit.

All of the counties at the bottom have low population density. But the counties with the lowest household density are not on the list. Lower population density is a hindrance but not an absolute determiner in access to broadband.

Public Funding

Nine of the ten counties at the bottom have received MN broadband grants. It is difficult to measure the impact with ranking, because it’s a race where everyone is running and for the slowest runners that means beating their previous time, not the faster runners.

2019 2018 2107
Yellow Medicine 38.86 37.72 19.28
Todd 38.68 17.58 2.86
Aitkin 37.74 17.55 11.51
Pine 37.26 38.18 37.37
Otter Tail 35.34 2.36 1.75
Redwood 33.56 33.56 34.37
Kanabec 26.93 38.54 26.07
Norman 20.62 20.55 20.52
Mahnomen 17.31 13.53 13.03
Becker 6.22 12.95 6.58


Bottom 10 counties that have improved their ranking from last year (some improved but not enough to rank higher than lower 10):

  • Yellow Medicine (received grants in 2015 and 2016)
  • Todd (received grants in 2014 and 2017)
  • Aitkin (received grants in 2016 and 2017)
  • Otter Tail (received numerous grants from 2014-2017)
  • Mahnomen (received grant in 2017)

Bottom 10 counties that have not improved their rank from last year:

  • Pine (received grant in 2017)
  • Redwood (received grant in 2015, 2016 and 2017)
  • Kanabec (received grant in 2016)
  • Norman
  • Becker (received grant in 2016)

All of the counties that got funding saw improvement. The counties that saw the great improvement (Todd, Aitkin and Otter Tail) were awarded grants. Noman County is the only one that are not received a grant and their access has not improved at all. (An increase of .07 is more a margin of error.)

Other reasons there may be no change in the counties that have received funding are improvements may not have been competed before data was collected, the grant may have been for multiple counties and/or little money and in some grants only required an immediate upgrade to 25/3.

With these results it’s difficult to ascertain the impact of funding but I think it’s fair to say that without it most of these would see no improvement.

Community Support

We gauged community support by tracking counties that have worked with Blandin Foundation. There are other ways to boost a county but this was an easy measure to track.

Blandin has provided guidance to these counties either in the form of broadband coaching and grants for broadband adoption projects or in supporting a feasibility study. The programming and support is valuable but at the end of each cohort or project I have heard people say that the most valuable outcome was stronger communities relationships. Six of the ten counties had worked with Blandin. Blandin worked with two of the three counties that saw the most improvement.

With these results it’s difficult to ascertain the impact of community support but I think it’s fair to say less would happen without it.


Another factor in broadband access is competition. Roberto Gallardo and Brain Whitacre wrote about the impact of competition and type of provider (A Look at Broadband Access, Providers and Technology) at the census tract level. They created a map (top right) that show areas by number of providers and type, which is either “Top 6” national provider or other. Top 6 includes AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, CenturyLink and Frontier.

One caveat is that the map defines broadband as 25/3 because that it is the federal definition. But for our purposes that doesn’t matter here; there are no providers that offer access to 25/3 and not 100/20.

Again, the Top 6 map uses census tracts not county boundaries, which makes it even more useful but it means we need to approximate the impact on the county.

The map on the left shows the bottom counties. The counties in east central MN (Aitkin, Pine and Kanabec) are in blue areas, which means there is only one provider serving those areas and that provider is a Top 6. Three of the counties in West Central MN (Norman, Mahnomen and Becker) are in green areas, which again means only one provider. Otter Tail, Todd, Yellow Medicine and Redwood are in areas that primarily seem to have a greater mix of providers.

This entry was posted in uncategorized 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.

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