Ely is so close to better broadband and yet so far

The Lake County ARRA Project has had its ups and downs. The very abridged version – Lake County got a lot of money from the stimulus funds to build a network. They ran into every conceivable problem – some related to incumbents, some not. There was a time limit on how long the stimulus project could take. That time is up. They got the project 98 percent complete (according to a recent article in the TimberJay) but Ely remains unserved.

Actually the TimberJay outlines the whole project – from the Ely perspective. Here’s an excerpt…

The eastern St. Louis County portion, or the third phase of the project, included the communities of Ely, Aurora, Babbitt, Hoyt Lakes, and the townships of Basset, Colvin, Crystal Bay, Embarrass, Fall Lake, Morse Township, Stony River, Waasa White, and several unorganized townships, and consisted of more than 750 miles of fiber completing the fiber ring.

“The St. Louis County ring was at risk last year of not being completed hardly at all,” Roiland said, “because we ran out of money.”

The broadband project was federally funded through the Rural Utility Services (RUS) part of the United States Department of Agriculture and their broadband initiatives programs of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly called the Stimulus Act.

“There was a timeline for this project to be built,” Roiland said. “We started in 2012 in Two Harbors, and on the first day, at our first construction meeting, we ran into our number-one obstacle, using the city’s utility poles. Frontier Communications showed up and said we don’t have access to their poles.”

Roiland said his company spent the next year trying to determine ownership of the poles and the hierarchy of where various cable services would be located on those poles. “We were thinking we could be the bottom position (on the pole) which was the least intrusive, but Frontier wanted to maintain the bottom position which meant that we would have to touch every pole in the town to move the various cables and utilities with the cost being put on Lake County.”

And an update of sort on where it stands now…

“As of September 30 of last year this program has ended,” he said. The Fall Lake and Ely areas were not completed by the deadline. Lake Connections did some aerial work near Moose Lake, Garden Lake, and into the city of Winton and up the Fernberg Trail. “We still have about $1.5 million worth of work to finish that area,” he said. “Of the $55 million grant and about $10 million loan, we exhausted pretty much all of it.”

The fiber literally stops at the substation at the Ely city line, according to Roiland.

“We are now just doing (service) drops to individuals and hope to have about 2,000 connected in the those nearby areas by the end of this summer,” he said. “We pass roughly 14,000 homes on the network, and that does not include any homes in Ely.”

There’s no real resolution. It’s a picture of what some rural communities – and especially home and businesses between communities sit in terms of improved access.

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Rural, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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