Rural DSL offerings common, group says

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 9, 2002

To some, rural Minnesota seems like a technology wasteland. But areas served by small, rural telephone companies actually have a high rate of access to high-speed Internet services, an industry spokesman says.

Rural telephone companies are working to dispel the notion that outstate areas don’t have access to high-speed communications, in an attempt to head off possible legislation aimed at fixing the perceived problem.

Between 70 and 80 small, rural phone companies that serve half the state have a higher rate of technology availability than the Twin Cities, said Randy Young, a spokesman for the Minnesota Association for Rural Telecommunications (MART). As much as 80 percent of exchanges served by those rural companies have access to DSL, a form of high-speed Internet access. In the Twin Cities area, it’s only 72 percent, Young said.

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In the Albert Lea area, one rural telephone company offers DSL in most of its service area, and another is hoping to offer it soon.

Cannon Valley Telecom, based in Bricelyn, has made DSL service available to 85 percent of its customers, said President and CEO Scott Johnson. The company invested around $700,000 to add the service.

&uot;About 60 of us independent phone companies in Minnesota, we don’t like to brag, but I think we tend to think we bring advanced services into rural areas faster than our larger counterparts do,&uot; Johnson said.

Hartland/Manchester Telephone Company, the other small phone provider in the area, doesn’t offer DSL service yet, but does have a local dial-up number through Albert Lea-based DM Broadband, said manager Omer Emstad.

Young said the statistics defy the image of rural Minnesota perpetuated by Gov. Jesse Ventura and others in state government, who are considering incentives and mandates to get rural phone companies to increase their technology offerings. But MART says there’s no problem in rural Minnesota.

Making phone companies build more DSL services before there is strong enough demand doesn’t make financial sense, he said.

&uot;It doesn’t do a community any good to have millions of dollars in technology sitting there if nobody is using it,&uot; he said.

He said the availability of high-speed Internet in rural areas is an overlooked asset in Minnesota, and that more economic development would be possible if the myths about the &uot;digital divide&uot; were dispelled.

&uot;Because of this, some companies don’t even bother to look into literally hundreds of communities around the state,&uot; Young said. &uot;All they’ve heard is there’s nothing in rural Minnesota, and because of that, we’re concerned about the long-term economic development of rural Minnesota.&uot;