BEMIDJI -- When it comes to broadband internet access in Minnesota, Beltrami County is No. 1 out of 87.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development released a new broadband availability map this year, showing Beltrami County having the most access to internet speeds up to a gigabit per second. According to DEED, 98.78 percent of Beltrami County now has access to those speeds.
In comparison, just 24.58 percent of the state has access to those internet speeds, and there are nine counties where no gigabit availability exists.
Shane Delaney, DEED communications director, said the region has benefited from having several providers.
"The reason Beltrami has so much broadband is you have Garden Valley Telephone Co. in the northwest corner, and Paul Bunyan Communications throughout the rest of the county," Delaney said. "Those two companies have largely been building out with fiber and most of the populated areas have a connection with that fiber."
According to a press release, Paul Bunyan Communications has the region's largest and fastest all fiber optic network with more than 5,500 square miles throughout Beltrami County. Additionally, Paul Bunyan's network extends into Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis counties.
"It's a great feeling to know we are almost finished expanding and upgrading our all-fiber optic network in Beltrami County, but we're not done," said Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications information technology and development manager in a release. "We have upgrades planned over the next two years in the rural Blackduck area. Our cooperative continues to expand our network to regions that are still lacking broadband access including rural areas of north central and northwestern Minnesota."
Another factor boosting Beltrami County's broadband is Midco, a provider headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D. According to Cole Mack, Midco director of field operations in Minnesota and Kansas, the provider acquired the market from Charter Communications in 2009.
"Minnesota wasn't originally Midco's footprint, as it was primarily in the Dakotas," Mack said. "Over the last 10 years, we connected fiber to the Grand Forks area, and that helped pipe together the Bemidji market. We've invested in a lot of areas, especially in southern Minnesota, in farm communities."
Efforts such as those by Paul Bunyan Communications and Midco are necessary to reach statewide goals set by the Minnesota Legislature over the next decade.
By 2022, the state has set a goal for all Minnesota businesses and homes to have access to high-speed broadband. This means providing minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second. In 2022, the Minnesota officials are also hoping to be one of the top five states in the nation for broadband access to residents and businesses.
Then, by 2026, the state has a goal to have all Minnesota businesses and homes to have access to at least one broadband provider offering download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second, according to DEED's website.
"Access to fast, reliable broadband is vital," said Angie Dickison, DEED broadband development manager. "Having strong rural communities is key to the economic vitality in the state of Minnesota."
To help accomplish the goal, Dickison said the state has set up a Border to Border Broadband grant, to assist in funding infrastructure.