The message is loud and clear when it comes to high-speed broadband internet services in Otter Tail County: "Please wait... Your options are still loading."

The county has some catching up to do. Currently, Otter Tail is the fourth-worst in the state when it comes to fixed, non-mobile broadband internet service speeds, ranking 84th out of Minnesota's 87 counties.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Only 1.75 percent of households and businesses in Otter Tail County have access to a broadband service provider that offers download speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or better, and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps.

These figures come from the latest broadband rankings released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development's Office of Broadband Development.

Jane Leonard, a broadband grant administrator for the state, told Otter Tail County Commissioners at a meeting earlier this month that Minnesota's leaders want border-to-border high-speed internet access covering the entire state - and they want it soon.

By the year 2022, she said, Minnesota wants to be among the top five states in the nation in terms of available internet access and speeds. Within 10 years, state leaders want 80 percent of Minnesota households and businesses to have access to at least one provider of broadband internet that offers speeds of 100/20 Mbps or better.

"High-speed internet is important when one considers the economic impacts when competing globally," Leonard said.

In an email to the Focus, sources at Arvig said these broadband goals are realistic and possible, but are also "very expensive to accomplish," and funds allocated by the state to meet the goals "don't come close to covering the costs of making it a reality."

Arvig, based in Perham, is one of Otter Tail County's major broadband providers, serving about one-third of households and businesses throughout the county. Currently, the company is capable of providing broadband speeds of 100/20 Mbps to 20 percent of its service area.

Other broadband providers in the county include Charter Communications, Otter Tail Telcom, Park Region Telephone Company and a handful of others.

Minnesota's State Broadband Task Force estimated it would take anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion to create border-to-border high-speed internet access, but available grants awarded over the past three years have totaled $10 million, $20 million and $35 million, respectively.

These grants require matching on the part of the telecommunications companies applying, and there's a lot of competition for dollars, Arvig said. Because of that, "We've won some of our grant applications and we've lost others."

With inadequate federal and state funding, Arvig said, "constructing the infrastructure required to provide these types of speeds to a relatively sparsely populated area" gets too costly.

What's more, most customers aren't asking for these high speeds.

"We pay close attention to what our customers want and we really don't see much demand for speeds of 100/20 Mbps in Otter Tail County," according to the Arvig email, "as evidenced by the fact that 70 percent of our customers remain on the lowest speed package available."

The company added: "While the state's goals sound great and would make Minnesota and Otter Tail County leaders in the nation, it deserves more study. No one truly knows what the future of technology holds."

The three counties that rank lower than Otter Tail on the state's list are Roseau, Lake of the Woods and Lyon. No households or businesses in those counties have 100/20 Mbps or better.

First in the state, with 100/20 or better at 99.39 percent, is Ramsey County, which includes St. Paul. Ranking second is Lac qui Parle County, with 99.36 percent. In third place is Waseca County, at 98.75 percent. Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, is fourth with 98.57 percent.