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Leech Lake part of report on broadband in rural Minnesota

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is a significant part of a recently released report that evaluates rural Minnesotans' adoption of broadband (high data rate Internet access).

The report, "How Rural Minnesota Communities Access and Use Broadband: Minnesota Rural Intelligent Communities Baseline Report," released in mid-October as part of the "Broadband 2010: Cultivating a Culture of Use" conference, finds a dramatic growth trend of 64 percent of all rural households adopting broadband technology compared to a 6 percent adoption rate nine years ago.

At a macro level, broadband appears to be a mainstream technology with statewide availability for all but 6 percent of Minnesota homes. But while residents of most cities in the state have access to broadband, there are still many pockets in rural communities where access and cost restrict users' adoption of one of the greatest infrastructures of the early 21st century.

According to the report authors, rural Minnesota is at a turning point for broadband deployment, adoption and utilization. In the Leech Lake community, the growth of broadband is only marginally lower than the national average; however, emerging data show an above average reliance on dial-up to connect to the Internet, indicating that not all residents have access to or can afford broadband technology. To view the complete report, go to: www.blandinfoundation.org.

The report is part of a $6.3 million initiative comprised of more than 19 statewide partners and 11 demonstration communities, spearheaded by the Blandin Foundation. The purpose of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative is to increase the range of broadband technology across rural Minnesota, especially in areas that are the most digitally distant. The survey acts as a benchmark in observing the growth of broadband in the rural areas of Minnesota and making plans for broadband expansion.

In the next 30 months, the primary goal of this initiative is to help create technologically and economically-vital rural communities, competing and thriving in the broadband economy with sustainable broadband adoption, job growth, and wealth creation.

Leech Lake

The MIRC report finds that of the 11 communities surveyed, 71 percent of Leech Lake residents own a computer, placing it just below the rural statewide average of 74 percent. Cook County has the highest computer ownership of the 11 MIRC communities at 83 percent, while Worthington has the lowest. Leech Lake also reports an Internet connectivity rate in the survey of 63 percent, in contrast to the rural statewide average of 70 percent.

Results further suggest that Leech Lake has somewhat lower adoption rates of broadband and higher dial-up reliance than other areas of rural Minnesota. Compared to the 64 percent state average, Leech Lake has a broadband adoption of 54 percent, with a dial-up adoption of nine percent compared to the state average of six percent. Cook County reflects the lowest broadband adoption at 50 percent, and of the 11 MIRC communities surveyed, Worthington has the lowest dial-up adoption at two percent.

The MIRC report indicates that Minnesota rural dial-up users who have not switched to a broadband connection is at 61 percent, citing the expense of broadband as the primary reason why. Slightly more than 20 percent reported that broadband was not available where they lived, while 15 percent reported that they did not connect to the Internet often enough to justify the cost.

Change drivers

The statewide survey, reflecting greater Minnesota's approach toward broadband, uses three key parameters to identify broadband access, use and adoption: home ownership of a working computer, Internet connectivity in the household and purchase of a broadband subscription.

Age and income levels are also key factors in regards to computer and broadband use. More than 80 percent of rural Minnesotans 55 and younger have a computer compared to less than 40 percent of those older than 65. In many rural Minnesota communities, the number of elderly residents is disproportionately high, posing a significant barrier to further gains in adoption of broadband use.

Report findings confirm the strong positive correlation between income and adoption with higher levels of income leading to higher levels of technology adoption. Specifically, respondents who reported a household income of at least $50,000 were twice as likely to report having a computer in their home or having it connected to the Internet than those reporting incomes of $25,000 or less.

The MIRC report notes a higher than average rate of poverty in the Ojibwe community presents its own unique challenges and circumstances. Smaller population sizes and landline adoption not equal to other demonstrative communities are also contributing factors in the existing and continued growth of broadband in the area.

Survey results indicate the overall rural growth in broadband is being spurred on by smaller private, public and cooperative providers across Minnesota. The results also cite competitive pricing, an increased commercial and governmental push of online services, and policy positions of regional and state groups and foundations as factors that are driving rural statewide adoption rates up.

The MIRC report determines that for many reasons, the adoption rate of computers will create a ceiling and obstacle to broadband growth.

Accordingly, the increase in use of home computers will be a key factor in advancing broadband strategies; according to study authors, one of the MIRC partners, PCs for People, is specifically targeting lower-income residents to provide them with a refurbished computer and sufficient training to adopt broadband.

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