In response to concerns about internet access expressed by residents and businesses, the Isanti County Economic Development Authority (EDA) began to assess the situation in late 2016. The EDA created the High Speed Internet Task Force, involving members of the public and private sector as well as health care and educational institutions to lead the research effort. In 2017, with the support of the Blandin Foundation and the Initiative Foundation, the group hired Design Nine, a broadband consulting group to assess current and future broadband needs, identify existing broadband assets, conduct surveys of businesses and residents, evaluate broadband technologies and assess management and financing options.

This baseline study identified a high level of dissatisfaction with current internet/data service options – 88% of residents and 83% of businesses responding to the survey said they “need better internet/data service”. Other findings included:
  • Healthcare professionals expect more services to become available on-line. Monitoring of elderly residents and people recently released from the hospital is expected to reduce costs and improve outcomes. The cost of nursing home averages about $8,000 per month; providing services to people in their homes as long as possible can save money for families and other payers.
  • Farmers are increasingly using internet-based technologies to improve yields, reduce input costs, sell products and make a variety of important decisions.
  • K-12 and college students need internet access to complete their homework.
  • Businesses need reliable, high-speed connections for managing communications and sharing large amounts of data with customers and suppliers.
  • Employees who prefer to work from home regularly or occasionally due to weather or illness find it difficult or impossible to telecommute due to internet limitations.
  • Home-based businesses need reliable, affordable connections without data caps.
  • People of all ages actively use the internet for entertainment, communication with family and friends, web surfing and gaming. Families with multiple devices may face challenges with data caps, download speeds and affordability.

The Task Force is continuing its efforts to find solutions and is currently working with CTC, a telephone cooperative based in the Brainerd Lakes areas to find solutions for Isanti County – with a focus on rural residents, farmers and businesses.