Duluth Mayor Emily Larson is encouraging all Duluth residents to take a survey that will help city officials gauge the community's broadband needs before determining the next steps in addressing high-speed internet access issues.

"We need and want the input from Duluth residents to inform our vision for community connectivity," Larson said.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson

At least 20% of Duluth residents don't have any internet access, Larson said, citing American Community Survey data from 2019, and of those that do have access, 15% only have access through their phone plan.

"Our goal is to ensure that every single Duluthian has reliable access to what they need, for job search, for education, to launch a small business, to simply live and survive," Larson said. "Everything we do now has some connection and some component in which we need access to the internet."

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The survey, which takes about three minutes, is available online at connectingduluth.com until Nov. 12.

Survey results will inform how the city decides to use the $1 million from the American Rescue Plan Act that's set aside to incentivize new providers to enter the market.

After calling out Spectrum, the only broadband provider in Duluth, during her "State of the City' address in April, the city created an internal broadband working group to research opportunities. Larson said the group has since reviewed 20 different approaches municipalities have developed to expand broadband and reviewed presentations from four providers.

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The city is contracting with one of those providers, EntryPoint, to conduct a feasibility study and develop a master broadband plan.

The city is working with several of its community partners to get the word out about the survey and provide a way for people to complete it. Hard copies of the survey also will be available at all three of the Duluth Public Library branches.

"The city envisions a broadband internet access plan that's available for all residents, founded upon equity, performance, affordability and privacy," City of Duluth Economic Developer Emily Nygren said.

Nygren added that survey findings will allow the city to evaluate the status of broadband in Duluth and provide recommendations to improving access for underserved communities.

More than 2,300 of Duluth's residents have taken advantage of subsidized internet programs, like Emergency Broadband Benefit, but Larson said the need is greater than those numbers suggest, and people in the community are underinformed of those services.