Aitkin County Broadband Profile 2020: Yellow rating: Ranking out 80 of 87

Green=served Purple=underesrved Red=unserved

Rank (from 100/20 megabits per second): 80
Code: Yellow

Annually, Blandin Foundation pulls together data from the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and broadband news to gauge progress toward the state broadband goals (25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload by 2022 and 100 Mbps/20 Mbps by 2026). Leaders can use this information to improve broadband access and use in their communities. To see how the state is doing overall, or to compare counties, visit the Blandin Foundation interactive map. Or check out past years’ reports: 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Aitkin County ranked low but making improvements

Aitkin County has seen a little broadband expansion since the last annual county broadband profile; their ranking (for 100/20 Mbps access) has dropped from 80 to 81. The good news is that the maps were created in April and we have seen some improvements over the summer; but they have a long way to go.

The county has been working on broadband for years and, like last year, they are gaining traction. They received $1.9 million in funding from the USDA and another $1.8 million from MN Border to Border grants. They have a continued partnership with the Blandin Foundation, which has supported some broadband improvements and broadband adoption.

They were at a code RED in terms of broadband preparedness; optimistically, I upgrade them to yellow. The county is making a big push, although one barrier for them is that much of the county is served by one, large national provider.

Broadband Access:

2020 2019 2018 2017
100/20 (2026 goal) 46.66 97.45 8 97.86
25/3 (2022 goal) 63.62 98.8 10 98.87

Computer Access:

County Households with computer …with desktop or laptop …with a smartphone …with a tablet et al …with other
State of MN 90.3% 81.1% 76.5% 59.3% 3.5%
Aitkin 83.7% 70.8% 63.9% 47.9% 2.9%

What we learned in the past:

Aitkin County government and residents have long been organized to promote broadband access and adoption. From 2015-2016, they worked with Blandin Foundation as part of the Central Woodlands Blandin Broadband Communities Cohort and, more recently, they have been part of the IRBC (Iron Range Broadband Communities) cohort. Last year we saw that much of Aitkin County is served by one large national provider. That is likely a bottleneck to better access. But the county persists. They have benefited from two MN state grants in their area:

  • 2017 – SCI – Shamrock Township Broadband Expansion – GRANT $148,503
  • 2016 – MILLE LACS ENERGY COOPERATIVE FTTP PROJECT – GRANT: $1,757,640

Update from 2020:

The area received $1.9 million in USDA funding and almost $2 million in MN Border to Border grants. Those projects are being deployed this summer (2020). Waukenabo Township celebrated the start of Fiber to the Home in August. They were also able to use IRBC (Blandin) grant funds to improve access in some places. 

In May, the Blandin Foundation Broadband Team visited with the county to hear about how broadband adoption programs were going. Access, seniors and healthcare had been hot topics.  COVID happened as they were deploying many projects, including some essential healthcare projects. So COVID helped patients adopt and broadband helped patients be safe.  They were able to serve 900 patients online (with their new MyChart enhancements) in the first few weeks of the quarantine because they were prepared. You can see the whole conversation in the video below.

NEW MN GRANTS:

  • Emily Cooperative Telephone Company – Round Lake Fiber Project – GRANT $376,000
    This last mile project will upgrade approximately 242 unserved and 103 underserved locations in the Esquagamah Lake and Round Lake areas of Aitkin County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Aitkin County, Emily Cooperative Telephone Company will improve broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. The use and development of broadband will provide various home-based business options, stimulate economic growth, and stimulate innovation and investment.
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) – MLEC Phase 3 FTTH Project with CTC – GRANT $1,253,955
    This last mile project will serve 282 unserved and 225 underserved households, businesses and farms in areas of Farm Island and Nordland Townships in Aitkin County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota, CTC, and Aitkin County, MLEC will improve broadband service levels up to 1 Gbps download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. The use and development of broadband will provide new and improved home-based business options, stimulate economic growth, and encourage innovation and investment in the area. Education, health care, energy efficiency, and public safety will also be advanced with access to broadband Internet.
  • SCI Broadband (Savage Communications Inc.) – Glen Township Broadband Expansion Project – GRANT $195,848
    This last mile project will serve 269 unserved homes, three unserved businesses, three unserved farms, one unserved community institution and five underserved homes in areas of Glen Township in Aitkin County. In a funding partnership with the State of Minnesota and Aitkin County, SCI Broadband will improve broadband service levels up to 250 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, exceeding the 2022 and 2026 state speed goals. SCI will leverage its existing middle mile infrastructure to deploy a last mile fiber to the premise network to local businesses and residents. Building the fiber to the premise network will improve access to education, telemedicine, telecommuting, and economic development as a whole within the region.

Checklist:

Details:

I am doing the annual look at broadband in each county – based on maps from the Office of Broadband Development and news gathered from the last year. I’m looking at progress toward the 2022 (25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and 2026 (100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up) and will code each:

  • Red (yikes)
  • Yellow (warning)
  • Green (good shape)
This entry was posted in MN County Profiles 2020 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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