LE SUEUR COUNTY, Minn. (KEYC) - Roughly 15 percent of households in Le Sueur County are either underserved or unserved when it comes to internet access.
“This is the unserved area, all of this. And as you go around the county and you talk to people, various stages of very upset about not having access to it,” said Le Sueur County resident Barb Droher Kline.
Kline moved to a northern part of the county four years ago and soon found out they had dial-up internet.
As a business owner who works from home, she said that wasn't sufficient.
“We switched over to fixed wireless which is off of our neighbor’s silo, which works pretty well unless there’s bad weather or too many people logged on to it, so it was still not very adequate for having a home business,” Kline added.
She brought the issue to the county, and they say there are many residents with the same problem.
“There’s a growing dependence and requirement for internet to homes," said Le Sueur County Commissioner John King. "Not just to stream movies on Netflix and shop on Amazon but to conduct business, for education.”
“The schools in this area are having distance learning days in the winter when they have snow days," Commissioner King continued. "The kids are expected to complete their homework online, but they’re kind of being set up to fail because they don’t have access.”
When you live in a rural area, it's not as simple as paying a provider and setting up a modem. An internet provider must invest in necessary infrastructure.
But in areas where the expensive technology will only serve sparse populations, providers can’t turn a profit, so they don’t offer service.
“When you have a core group of businesses or core group of customers, you can make some investments and get a return on investments," Le Sueur County Administrator Darrell Pettis said. "As a business, you have to get a return on your investment or you shouldn’t make the investment because you’ll run out of business.”
Now the county has taken this issue into their own hands. They recently released a survey to residents, asking questions about whether they have internet, the quality of their access, and what they need internet for.
Once the survey is done, the county will decide what course of action to take and how it will be paid for. Most likely, the county will subsidize a private service provider, and that money could come from state grants or taxpayer dollars.