The state of Minnesota estimates that around 20 percent of rural Minnesotans lack access to bare minimum internet speeds. What does this mean for rural families who are currently trying to balance work and schooling from home?
People like Nathan Zacharias, who came onto our Cities Speak podcast last month, are trying to fix this issue.
Zacharias works with the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition and is the project manager for the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative. The speed test is a 30 second test people can take to measure the quality of their home internet connection. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition created this test to learn exactly what broadband looks like throughout the state.
Taking the test
To take the test, go to their website, plug in your address, and your monthly internet cost. Once your information is entered, you will be able to find out exactly what your speeds are. The test then logs the results and places an either green, yellow, or red dot on their map of Minnesota.
If you get a green dot, this means your speeds either match or exceed the goal internet speeds for Minnesota which is 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload. A yellow dot means your speeds are between 10 megabits per second and 25 per second, and you will get a red dot if you have anything under 10 megabits per second. The coalition’s goal is to make sure that all Minnesotans meet the green dot standards in the next two years.
Advocating for expansion
Another objective of the test is to present the data found with community leaders and legislators to help expand broadband networks in their communities. “What they’ll be able to do with this information is say, here’s a map that shows exactly where we’re lacking service. Let’s make a plan together to get service to these areas,” said Zacharias.
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition has been around for over 5 years and has continuously advocated for rural communities in the state. Every year, the coalition goes to the state legislature to advocate for funding the Border to Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant program. Through this grant program, the state would fund half of the project costs and then community and private funds would make up the other 50 percent.
This plan has been so successful that other states in the nation have modeled their programs after it. However, the program has never come into fruition in Minnesota, because it’s never been fully funded. “Our job as an organization is to go to the Capitol and to convince lawmakers that this is worth funding and it’s worth fully funding,” said Zacharias.
Zacharias shared stories from Minnesotans who had to go to McDonald’s, libraries, and even churches in order to get internet access. “That’s just completely unacceptable, and that’s even more unacceptable in the current global pandemic where most of us, if it’s possible, are working from home or learning from home or even socializing from home. And that’s just not possible unless you have a strong internet connection,” said Zacharias.
Until then, they will continue to fight for broadband expansion, even amid a pandemic. “We know the state’s in tough shape after the pandemic hit us, but we think broadband is one of the most important issues facing the state,” said Zacharias.