400 families respond to Itasca broadband push

Connect ItascaItasca County, continuing its push for broadband for all residents, gave an update on its progress since the reinvigorated effort to collect survey results from interested residents unserved or underserved by current broadband providers.

The press release follows:

Itascans want better broadband.

Over 400 Itasca County families have indicated that they want better access to broadband, or high-speed, Internet at their homes. Through surveys and meetings, Connect Itasca leaders are learning about the difficulties residents and visitors face when broadband access is poor or non-existent. Completing schoolwork, working from home and other day-to-day activities are limited when people can’t get online. For resorts, a lack of Internet sends visitors off to other resorts. For realtors, lack of broadband can knock a house out of contention before prospective buyers even take a look.

Mary Roy, who lives in the Arbo Wabana area, talked about the demands for broadband at her house with two students working to complete their assignments. She says, “Only can work online at a time and bandwidth caps means that we have to head for town often to complete their school work.” Mary Jo Wimmer, who lives in Split Hand Township operates a consulting business out of her home. She says, “There are just some things that I cannot do over my present connection that I need to be able to do to be successful.”

In the Balsam – Lawrence area of the county, a good number of residents have already taken the survey. Of 71 respondents to date, 77 percent said that they were definitely or likely to purchase a high speed Internet connection. When asked about their satisfaction with speed, reliability and pricing, an average of seventy three percent indicated dissatisfaction.

Connect Itasca recently held a Champions Rally at Blandin Foundation. Champions are people who have indicated that they are ready to help push for better broadband by encouraging to their neighbors and friends to complete the survey. More than 25 people have now signed up for champions and after sharing their stories of discontent and struggles with existing dial-up, cellular and satellite services, took home paper copies of the survey, flyers, buttons and lawn signs to share with their neighbors.

Some have been working to get better broadband in their area for more than a decade. Pat Bujold, who lives on Prairie Lake, has had to use his own tech savvy to get broadband for himself and is committed to bring broadband throughout the area. “I have hand-delivered over 50 surveys to my neighbors and am ready to do 100 more, if necessary.”

County administrator Trish Klein thanked the champions for their efforts. She spoke about the lack of ability of the county to communicate effectively with residents and property owners. “To send a letter to each property owner costs the county around $18,000 dollars, we can’t do that very often or for special purposes,” said Klein.

The Connect Itasca partners have set a goal of 1200 completed surveys by November and are about 1/3 of the way there. Connect Itasca is stepping up its outreach efforts through a variety of ways. The group has more than 250 Facebook followers and is using the page to spread the word. They have contacted townships, lake associations, churches and other Itasca County organizations to enlist their support. Connect Itasca is also going “low-tech” and is providing paper copies of the survey to facilitate survey completion for those without broadband service.

Connect Itasca is also communicating and sharing the gathered information with area Internet providers hoping them to extend services into unserved areas and to upgrade services in underserved areas with the belief that all Itascans should have access to broadband services that, at a minimum, should meet the state broadband goal of 10 – 20 Mbps.

Klein said “We know that we need countywide broadband for a wide range of purposes – public safely, economic development, home health care, and general quality of life. We know that some of our neighboring northwood counties have it already and we do not want to be left behind. We don’t know how we are going to make this happen yet, but we are committed to the effort.”

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