How does Northern MN get broadband? Cooperatives, community and government support

Business North recently ran an article outlining some of the reasons Northern Minnesota needs broadband and some parts of do not have it.

Broadband is good for the economy…

In a recent opinion piece penned by Jordan Feyerherm of the Center for Rural Affairs, the author notes that rural regions with one to three broadband providers experience employment growth that’s more than 6 percent higher than areas that lack broadband access.

Rural broadband is expensive…

The primary driver behind the lack of broadband infrastructure in rural areas is simple economics – it costs more per customer to deliver. Broadband companies can see a rapid return on hardwire investment on a high-density street in Duluth. In a rural township, that same company might not see a profit for their efforts for decades – if ever.

Cooperatives make a difference…

“Where there are co-ops there’s broadband. Where there are incumbent providers, there’s not,” said Bernadine Joselyn, the Blandin Foundation’s director of public policy and engagement.

The Foundation has been a strong advocate for high-speed Internet expansion to rural areas through its Blandin Community Broadband Program. Now, however, Joselyn said the work has become more difficult. “What was easy to do has been done,” she said.

One of the most aggressive co-ops when it comes to broadband expansion has been Paul Bunyan. Based in Bemidji, the co-op has expanded broadband availability to a number of townships in northeastern Minnesota. Just last year, 1,200 residents of Balsam Township, a rural township in Itasca County, had broadband access for the first time.

The community needs to be ready…

Proximity to a co-op or company planning expansion is certainly key, but some communities have been more prepared to jump on board.

In a column analyzing the recently unveiled list of Border-to-Border projects, Brown noted a lack of funded projects in rural St. Louis County.

“The only project in St. Louis County is a small Mediacom expansion in Fayal Township south of Eveleth. Why was there only one small project in St. Louis County? In short, there were few projects to fund… Localities in rural St. Louis County haven’t organized the way they have in Itasca County and other places in Minnesota,” wrote Brown.

[I might step in and say that actually the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been active in St Louis County.)

Government support…

Programs like the state’s Border-to-Border grant initiative, for now at least, seem to be the best shot rural residents have for broadband connection. …

In late January, northern Minnesota legislators joined forces to promote an expansion of the Border-to-Border program. They’re proposing a $100 million appropriation for the broadband program. The bill’s chief authors are Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL – Hibbing, in the House and Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL – Duluth, in the Senate.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, Digital Divide, MN, Policy, Rural 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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