Isanti County EDA explores improvements to high-speed Internet access

Article provided by Isanti County

The Isanti County Economic Development Authority (EDA) is reaching out to area residents and businesses with a survey to learn more about access to high-speed Internet service and satisfaction with its reliability and pricing.

“The goal is to hear from people and businesses in all parts of the county so we can map areas where there may be concentrations of people who are dissatisfied and seeking improved service,” according to Commissioner Terry Turnquist.

The Chisago County EDA conducted a similar survey several years ago. As a result, residents of northern Sunrise Township recently committed to providing the local funds necessary to secure state and federal funds. In addition to enjoying the benefits of access to subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, and other entertainment providers for entertainment, residents expect the investment to pay off. Recent studies have shown that property values are increased by an average of 3.5 percent when fiber-optic Internet service is available at the home.

In many cases, homebuyers place high-speed Internet access at the top of their priority lists when searching for a new home.

The Isanti County Economic Development Authority started exploring Internet access about a year ago and learned that high-speed Internet access is more difficult in rural parts of the county than in the cities, which have phone and cable providers like CenturyLink, Frontier, Windstream and Midco.

But in rural areas with lower population density, these companies haven’t invested in the infrastructure that allow for high speed Internet connections.

The schools and health care providers in Cambridge, Isanti, and Braham all report good Internet access to their facilities, but are especially concerned about their employees, students, and patients in rural areas.

Increasingly K-12 and college students need Internet access to complete their homework. Some families drive to locations like the library or fast food establishments late in the evening so their children can upload homework assignments. Videos are being used more often in K-12 and college curriculums, outstripping the speed on low-speed connections or the data limitations on satellite connections.

Doctors who live in rural areas may be able to secure high speed connections by paying for very expensive systems so they can receive large files, but even then, may still need to drive to office in town if the files are too large. Healthcare professionals expect more services to become available online. Monitoring of elderly residents and people recently released from the hospital is expected to reduce costs and improve outcomes if good Internet access is available to the home.

Employees who need or would like to work from home regularly or occasionally due to weather or illness, can find it difficult or impossible to telecommute due to Internet limitations. Home-based businesses need reliable, affordable connections. And farmers are increasingly using Internet-based technologies to improve yields, reduce input costs, sell products and make important decisions. The Isanti County EDA heard the story of a rural resident who climbs a silo on the farm to get a better connection.

Isanti County recently received funding from the Blandin and Initiative Foundations to help explore the market and identify potential technical and funding solutions to ensure that residents can secure high-quality Internet access at a reasonable price.

“We feel it’s important for our county to remain a desirable and economically competitive location for families and businesses,” commented Commissioner Greg Anderson.

The EDA is working with Design Nine, a consulting firm that has assisted other rural communities around the country, in securing high quality Internet service.

The survey will provide information important to designing solutions that can work in the Isanti County market area.

Isanti County EDA High Speed Internet surveys are available:
• Online at www.co.isanti.mn.us

Hard copy surveys are available at:
• Isanti County Government Center
555 18th Ave. SW, Cambridge.

• East Central Regional Library
244 Birch St. S., Cambridge.

• Braham Community Event Center
655 Eighth St. SW, Braham.

• Heartland Express/ Transit Department
245 Second Ave. SE, Cambridge.