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Continued: Lawmakers to propose $100M to bring broadband to the borders

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 26, 2014 - 11:25 PM

More than 86 percent said they would be “very likely” to switch to a competitive provider if there were one.

“This has outraged the community,” said Kelly Hinnenkamp, city administrator. “The majority of the time, customers here are getting less than half the speeds they’re paying for. Then when you have outages, you’re getting nothing.”

Pete Kormanik picked Annandale for his third McDonald’s because of location, traffic and an active chamber of commerce. But just before opening in 2012, Kormanik got worried.

Downloading data for a digital menu board — a task that would have taken 30 minutes at his other restaurants — dragged on for more than four hours.

After delays in processing credit cards, watching training videos and transmitting orders, Kormanik switched to an AT & T antenna. But a cloudy day can slow that service.

“If you can’t stay current with [connectivity], you’re just going to fall behind,” Kormanik said. “And businesses won’t go into those locations.”

Annandale is studying how to attract other providers — or maybe build a network itself. A matching grant from Minnesota could help, Hinnenkamp said.

Internet provider Windstream said in a letter to Annandale leaders that it spent $125,000 in 2013 upgrading the city’s system, “a considerable investment given the relatively small customer base.” The company pledged $500,000 in upgrades in 2014.

“Explosive growth” in demand for streaming video and other things has tested the network’s capacity, Charles Bruggemann, division vice president for field operations, said in an interview.

Bruggemann said Windstream is doing its best to eliminate congestion and that using state money to help bring in another provider would increase costs for everyone. “Quite frankly, we think that’s a duplication of efforts.”

Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, said he’s gotten “countless e-mails” from Annandale residents complaining about Internet service.

Folks in his conservative Wright County district “don’t have many needs,” because they first assume that “we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” he said.

“So when they do call and say, ‘There’s a need here,’ I want to help in any way I can,” McDonald said. A state grant program is “something I could get behind.”

‘Paralyzing the rural poor’

Schmit envisions the “border to border” grant program as a way to encourage “creative” partnerships. “There’s no shortage of local energy around this,” he said.

Rural broadband was one of two topics at a precinct caucus in Itasca County, where about 54 percent of households have access to broadband, said Aaron Brown, a community college instructor and blogger. The other? The minimum wage.

“Those are the two issues paralyzing the rural poor,” he wrote.

Brown depends on the Internet to teach online courses, among other things. Most months, he and his family exceed the max bandwidth on their $134-a-month satellite service and have to drive to town to finish their work.

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