About 92% of Minnesota homes and businesses have internet service of at least 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

But that percentage drops to 83% in rural Minnesota, the agency said. And time is running out to meet the state's goal of ensuring those speeds for all Minnesotans by 2022.

"The biggest challenge is the remoteness of some of these communities, houses and businesses…and the fewer people in those spaces, the more difficult is it to make the financial case for independent service providers to reach them," said Vince Robinson, chairman of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, during a March 30 discussion among state leaders about the role broadband access plays in economic growth, business vitality, health and education. His comment was included in an agency news release.

In Douglas County, Alexandria, Osakis, Holmes City and much of the southwestern part of the county are considered to have good internet service, according to the state's 2020 map of internet access. Most of the unserved areas are in the eastern third of the county, and along the Douglas-Otter Tail County line. Most of the underserved areas, meaning those that only reach the 2022 state goal, are along I-94 and in the northwestern part of the county.

To provide incentives to extend broadband to Minnesota's hard-to-reach places, the state's Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has provided $126 million to fund more than 179 projects connecting more than 57,000 homes, businesses and farms, said Office of Broadband Development Executive Director Angie Dickison.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

In the March 30 meeting, state leaders discussed not just extending broadband, but also new and emerging internet technologies, affordability, and latency (meaning the time it takes to send data and get a response).

Gov. Tim Walz is asking the legislature for $50 million for the Border-to-Border grants, said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove.