Kanabec County chat: spotty broadband means different COVID experience across the county

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that outside of the town of Mora, Kanabec is awash in pink (unserved) and purple (underserved). And talking to two people who live in town (served) and work with people around the county, I learned what a difference a mile or two can make. I also heard from Karen Onan, she wasn’t able to make the call but I have included her notes to me below. Most notably, telling about a coworker who parks in a cemetery to get enough broadband for remote meeting!

I spoke with Marc Johnson from ECMECC (supports school technology for 14 member school districts) and Realtor Lonnie Less. Again both have good access at home. IN fact Marc noted that he can do everything from home that he could do from the office with the broadband he has. We mused at what we would have done with a pandemic like this before broadband was around.

Unfortunately many of his students are not in the same position. They sent a survey home with kids. Turns out 6-12 percent of students (depending on location) didn’t have access to broadband. BUT when asked if that broadband was sufficient, 20-30 percent said they lacked access. The survey included a question and a link to a speed test. That means while some students worked online; some got paper packets.

The plan this fall is a return to school but Marc noted that 10-15 percent of the students will elect to stay home due to health concerns. And of course they need to be prepares to move to distance education if the COVID situation changes. Marc is working on a digital navigator project, which sounds like a great tool. It is a person who will help students who aren’t connected get connected. Think of it as your techie uncle or niece that you call when you need to know what you can do. SO they will go in and find the best solutions they can.

Lonnie talked about how they managed in his house with kids home from college, kids in younger grades and parents working from home and taking on kids from nearby who didn’t have sufficient access in their homes. So he would pick up a classmate of his kid and let him join the Ness study pod. It’s great to see when that happens but it’s frustrating to see the need.

Lonnie sells homes. He said he’s had enquiries from folks from the Cities looking to move to a quieter neighborhood after some of the civil unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd. A few folks have already moved. He has a mom who was an x-ray technician, who could work anywhere with broadband. And that’s really the trick, some people are looking to get out of the Cities but they will only move to a house with broadband. They need it for work, school and telehealth.

Broadband will definitely be a help to any community in a position to draw from folks wanting to get away from the Cities due to the pandemic and the civil unrest.

Karen shares her story or have-not, have and almost has again – which involves a decision to move herself…

I can’t imagine what I’d be doing without it.

I moved into the town of Mora Jan. 2018 from where internet was spotty at best  –  about 8 miles NW of Mora. (We/I had an aircard – that was the best we could do). When I moved into town, I was able to get onto Midco’s service. WOW! Great speeds, t.v., streaming, all the bells and whistles! Then when Covid hit in March 2020, we were told that we all had to work from home. Luckily, I had great service and was able to do virtual meetings, handle calls easily… though I did notice those who were not so lucky! One gal who works for another RDC has to go to a cemetery and sit in her car to get service when meetings are held – I’m serious!!

Well, in the midst of all of this, my life made a turn and I desired to move north to the small town of Aitkin. I spoke with my boss and he was fine with me commuting one day a week and teleworking the other 4 (which wouldn’t have been even a thought if Covid hadn’t hit). Before I purchased, I was assured by the Aitkin homeowner that internet was pretty good (CenturyLink). Then I had the good fortune to find out from Marc that because Mille Lacs Energy services this area I would be able to sign up for their upcoming fiber to the home through the B2B funding (yeah!!!) which I have been promised to have by year’s end.

Upon the move in last week, I asked my somewhat techy daughter to hook up the modem/router (?) that I’m renting from CenturyLink (until the fiber comes through). After about 3 hours and after looking at my gnawed fingernails, she assured me that she got it working.

So here I am, happy as a clam in my newly found forever lake home where I can work in my own comfortable space with my dog in the chair next to me, working at 2am if I so please (insomniac), with speeds of 22.46mbps down and 1.57mbps up (ping: 28) that will get me by swimmingly until the whiz bang high speed broadband comes in! I’ve been allowed to create a new life because of adequate internet speeds. I count myself extremely lucky.




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