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New website tracks broadband access and internet speed across Minnesota

Kirsten Swanson
Updated: August 06, 2020 05:58 PM
Created: August 06, 2020 04:51 PM

A group in Minnesota has launched a new, interactive tool aimed at mapping broadband availability and internet speed in households across the state.

The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is asking people to take the speed test on their website. Participants give their address or a nearby location data.

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The website then measures the download and upload speeds of the internet connection. The results are then recorded and displayed on a map. Green dots indicate a fast connection; red dots equal a slow connection.

"It's information that we don't have about a service that everybody deserves to have," project manager Nathan Zacharias said in an interview with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Broadband access in rural pockets of Minnesota is scarce and unreliable. But Zacharias said an added challenge is that most data is not granular enough to get a full picture of where precisely the problem exists.

"What we're looking to do with our project is get a house-by-house idea of what the service looks like," he said. "You get a better or more accurate picture."

The speed test also allows participants to check a box if they do not have internet access. Those logs appear on the map in black.

"Some of those areas are the ones we're trying to get at the most," Zacharias said.

The information will be collected through the end of the year. Zacharias said the coalition will then present the data to lawmakers in 2021 as they work to decide how much funding should be dedicated to the development of broadband infrastructure.

"In this day and age, I don't believe it's something we should have to go without," said Carl Sandness, a high school science teacher who lives outside of Hibbing.

Sandness has tried just about every internet solution out there. At this point, his best option is a hotspot that runs on cellphone data.

"It's plugged in upstairs and I have booster antenna. Had I not invested in that extra antenna, I don't think that I would have been able to provide as much video as I could have otherwise," he said, talking about teaching classes during distance learning last spring.

As the start of the school year looms, Sandness said broadband infrastructure is an issue that needs attention from both state and local leaders.

"I believe, for equity sake, it's necessary as an investment," he said.


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