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Perham area better off than others when it comes to high-speed internet acess

High-speed internet access isn't bad in the Perham and New York Mills area, local providers say.

In response to a recent Federal Communications Commission report that revealed Otter Tail County as the worst in the state when it comes to high-speed internet access, providers have said broadband is readily available in cities throughout the county, as well as in a smattering of rural areas.

Arvig Communications, for example, provides "100 percent coverage" within their service area, according to Vice President and COO of the company, David Arvig. This area includes Perham, NY Mills, Ottertail, Henning, Dent and other communities in the northeastern part of the county.

While the FCC study concluded that nearly 50 percent of all Otter Tail County residents are without access, Arvig provides a minimum speed of 5 Mbps (megabytes per second) - and up to 20 Mbps - within the company's footprint.

As shown in an online map by Connect Minnesota, there are small pockets scattered all over the county where no broadband is available, but the majority of the northeast is covered. The largest areas without access are found in the western and southern parts of the county.

Connect Minnesota is a non-profit that works in partnership with the state Department of Commerce to create maps of broadband coverage in order to pinpoint remaining gaps in availability.

The map of the Otter Tail County area shows fiber, cable and DSL high-speed internet options. Wireless service is not included, although it's growing in both speed and popularity and could account for a higher number of people with high-speed access than the map or the FCC are counting.

Mitch Koep, who owns A Better Wireless, LLC. out of Henning, said wireless technology today "is phenomenal," with speeds often equivalent to fiber.

Koep said he is one of a few smaller wireless internet companies offering service in the county. He currently serves Henning and Deer Creek, and hopes to expand his services to Perham, NY Mills and Ottertail in the near future.

Both Koep and Arvig cited economic feasibility as the primary factor behind lesser coverage in rural areas. For larger companies like Arvig, it's about population density and the cost of supply vs. actual demand; meanwhile, smaller wireless providers like Koep are dealing with competition from larger companies and a lack of access to federal stimulus funds.

Arvig said his company might consider expanding its footprint into more outlying areas if the federal government offered another stimulus package, but even with that, he said, the company would struggle to make a profit. Some rural areas simply don't have enough people who would purchase high-speed internet to make the company's investment a good business move.

But if a group of people come together and petition a local provider to offer access, Arvig added, "they can probably get them to do it."