Ninety percent of businesses in rural Minnesota are online. If a business has a computer today, it is probably networked, and it’s probably a broadband connection—only 4.3% of rural businesses surveyed are accessing the internet on a dial-up connection. Half are using DSL and 17% cable modems.
The EDA Centerat the University of Minnesota, Crookston, surveyed firms across the state earlier this year “to assess both the adoption and utilization of Internet technologies among businesses throughout rural Minnesota.” Results have now been released in a July 2009 report, “Rural Businesses and the Internet: The Integration Continues” (pdf).
Rural business doesn’t necessarily mean small or isolated; while less than 10% of firms surveyed have over 50 employees, over 20% report their primary market is nationwide or global in scope. About a quarter of respondents operate in the retail sector, 14% in professional services, and 12% in food, accommodations and tourism. About half consider their internet connection costs “about right”—only 30% complained of “too high” or “outrageous” prices. This is reflected in the fact that 85% reported that their current connection speed is adequate to meet their current needs.
Combined with reports from USDA ERS and the Census of Agriculture regarding on-farm broadband use, it’s becoming clear that broadband should be considered essential infrastructure no matter where we live.
The University of Minnesota recently won the opportunity to host the EDA Center, sponsored by the US Dept. of Commerce Economic Development Administration. “The EDA Center conducts applied research, provides direct technical assistance and delivers educational programs to economic development agencies that support the economy of economically-distressed rural communities throughout Minnesota.” Dr. Jack Geller, formerly with the Minnesota Center for Rural Policy & Development, is doing some interesting work up with the EDA Center. He is on the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Task Force and participated in the Blandin Broadband Workshopin Mankato last month. (Ann Treacy notes her impressions of this reporton Blandin on Broadband blog.)
For this project, Dr. Geller enlisted Regional Development Organizations across Minnesota, including Southwest Regional Development Commission, to help poll businesses in each of our regions. He posted a powerpoint of the report on Slideshare: