From fishing to real estate, rural businesses need broadband

Rural businesses need broadband access to compete - no matter what they're selling.

In rural Minnesota, the tourism and real estate industries are finding themselves at a disadvantage in an increasingly web-based marketplace:

Minnesotans cherish the Land of 10,000 Lakes region along Lake Superior for its timeless beauty, but beauty alone doesn't help lodge owner Bruce Kerfoot when he needs to order a fishing license for a guest at his family's Gunflint Lodge.

"All of the fishing licenses these days are sold over the Internet, so you have to have the capacity to access the DNR's web site," Kerfoot said. "We don't have that."

Further, guests increasingly expect to make their reservations online.

"We cannot do that," Kerfoot said. "We cannot come close to that."

Jack Geller, a professor at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, says that Kerfoot's situation is more and more common as consumers expect to interact with businesses online.

Selling a house? Buyers won't come to a showing unless they've already been on a virtual tour. "A simple industry, as place-based as real estate, really can't be competitive anymore without a broadband connection," says Geller, "People identify it as an essential service."

Minnesota's scenic Cook County is taking matters into its own hands.

There is a referendum on the ballot for a 1 percent sales tax that will fund a fiber optic network for the region. The proposed network will connect every home and business to broadband Internet, cable TV, and telephone service. Cook County has also applied $33 million in federal grants.

In Cook Country, which lies along Lake Superior, the choice is clear: when you can't get a fishing license without Internet access, it's time to get Internet access.

Broadband connectivity is a big issue in rural and remote parts of Minnesota (Minnesota Post)