Connect Itasca innovative plan to make business case for broadband

Bill_ColemanConnect Itasca is using an innovative tool to gather market development and business plan data for the un-served and under-served areas of Itasca County.  The survey tool provides mapping, network cost estimating and social media tools to build a business case for broadband deployment.  This initiative is critical because about one-third of the county’s households – approximately 6,000 families – lack broadband that meets the state goal.  Many people are struggling with satellite and cellular connections to operate businesses, go to school and live a modern lifestyle.

The project is almost half-way towards its goal of 1200 completed surveys. The partners are working hard to get the unconnected and highly dispersed to participate in the survey.  Team members are promoting the survey through schools, lake associations, township meetings and lawn signs!  Connect Itasca now has 30 “champion” volunteers out spreading the word.  Project updates are posted on the Connect Itasca Facebook page which now has almost 300 followers.

It was nice to see the effort get attention from the local paper

The Connect Itasca mission is “to provide broadband Internet access to all Itasca County residents and businesses at speeds meeting or exceeding Minnesota’s state broadband goals of 10-20 Mbps download and 5-10 Mbps.” The first step in this process is to gather information from residents about their particular wants and needs for this project. The county has been joined by the Itasca Economic Development Corporation, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and the Blandin Foundation in order to help make this project possible, but time is of the essence.

Because of federal grants that are available for broadband projects, funding is not an issue for making this happen. But the grants won’t be around in a few more years, so Klein said they hope to connect Itasca’s rural residents as soon as possible. When asked what the biggest problem is currently for Connect Itasca, it turned out to be slightly ironic.

“The greatest hurdle is connecting with the people who are unconnected,” said Klein. “So the typical message that we at the county use to communicate with our residents are email or through public access television. But what we discovered is that people who don’t have Internet also don’t have email and they’re not watching our board meetings on ICTV.”

Connect Itasca has a survey that they’re asking residents to complete on their Internet use and needs. The survey is available online at connectitascans.servicezones.net, but it may also be mailed to your home by calling the county administrator’s office at (218) 327-2847.

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