St Louis County broadband meeting: make partners, help providers work with you – think feasibility studies

Today in St Louis a few dozen people met to talk and learn about broadband. A few themes emerged – people want broadband. In areas that aren’t yet served it’s going to take an effort – on the part of the local community. Partnership helps. Part of the game is courting a provider and often that means making yourself more attractive by knowing what infrastructure is already in your community and knowing the interest with local residents. Inherent in that idea is the opportunity to encourage local residents.

You can watch the archive or read notes below.

Welcome from Jason Metsa –

Thanks for coming. We have general fund dollars and local dollars that we can apply to for projects.

What’s happening with local communities?

Cloquet Valley

  • CV has been trying to get broadband for years. We have done a feasibility study. We have had some incremental improvements. We often seem to know more than some of the providers about the services that are available in the areas. We nearly had CenturyLink use CAF money in the area but in they found that there ROI wasn’t adequate. We persist.

(the following are current IRBC communities, which means they are working with Blandin and IRRB now to create broadband plans)



  • I live where broadband is terrible. We’ve been there 18 years, but if we wouldn’t choose that house now.
  • We reached out to gov buildings in the school district to get a feasibility study done. We had NE Service Coop step up to help us with middle mile. Then we starting working with CTC. Got a $120,000 grant from IRRRB to get fiber to the downtown area. Ely will supply pole replacements. The incumbent has tried to set up road blocks. They say they offer services that they don’t’ promote. We looked at fixed wireless solutions – partnerships with Y camps has helped.
  • We have used Broadband funding to get businesses better listings online. Incredible Ely has been helping businesses to get their local Google listing. Previously many had no online presence. The phone was the only way to reach them.
  • Providers tell us that no one needs a gig. That’s crazy. It’s like a car dealer telling you only need a compact car.

Mountain Iron Buhl

  • We started partnering with local communities. We wanted to take a more regional approach to a feasibility study. We figured out a consultant. We learned about the steps that would make us more attractive to broadband providers – because no one was going to come to the door asking us if we wanted more.
  • We created maps that tracked roads and costs that it might take to get broadband to them. Northeast Service Coop helped us and the providers quickly learned that we had gathered good info. SO the providers took us more seriously.
  • Having a feasibility study has created a place for people to go to and start with to tell their stories of need.

East Range Joint Powers Board

  • We are just starting on the paths that the other communities have started. We are engaging and educating citizens.
  • We have started working with local businesses.
  • We are looking at hiring a consultant and raising funds from local communities.
  • Diane Wells – Office of Broadband Development- building partnerships
  • Sometimes it pays to be lucky over good – you wouldn’t be here if you were lucky. So you have to be good.

Examples of basic partnerships include projects where community partners work with local providers (or encourage providers to come to their area) That might look like:

  • Provider – neighbors/residents
  • Provider – township/city
  • Provider – county
  • Provide – Economic Development Region
  • Cooperation Partnerships
  • Tribal examples (one with tribal provider, otherwise provider)

How to get a partnership:

  • Organize
  • Identify partners
  • Demonstrate Demand
  • Find financial contributions (We are looking for diversity in funder – such as community tax base, local business gov spending)
  • Apply for state funds – as a partnership!


  • New partner configurations
  • New technology configurations

Whitney Ridlon (IRRRB) – broadband funding resources

  • Fed – USDA Reconnection ($600 million)
  • Fed – CAF II
  • State of MN Grants
  • IRRRB- will help with state grant match
  • Local Cash Contributions
  • Tax Abatement Bond/Special Tax District
  • Loan Guarantee
  • Dedication of a Special Tax
  • Dedication of Sales Tax

Emerging Projects


  • Looked at being part of Lake Connections – but they ran out of money
  • Frontier owns 40% of poles – so we talked to them. They weren’t interested.
  • So we did preliminary engineering and market research (feasibility study) and then we got a grant and now we’re ready to go.
  • City will own it ; CTC will run it. CTC will lease it and that’s how we’ll continue to build

Cherry Township

  • Approached by Whitside about broadband
  • The board wasn’t sure what to do – they are older but they invested some funding.
  • There’s one local champion who is really making a difference.
  • They door knocked, they held community meetings, they built demand
  • It looks like they have a project. The leaders are involved and proud
    A view from CTC
  • Funding came from ReConnect
  • A community champion made the difference
  • The sad reality is that you compete with your neighbors for funding and the broadband provider’s attention – a champion, local info, engagement helps make you more attractive
  • As a coop, we like to reinvest but recognize that it’s not CTC that’s investing – it’s the members of CTC
  • Want to work with us, check out – we track how many people visit in different areas

Paul Bunyan – Side Lake

  • They were part of a feasibility study
  • Got a MN state grant to serve Western Side Lake
  • Paul Bunyan told East Side Lake that if enough of them sign up, they will expand beyond.

Northeast Service Coop – Paul Brinkman –

  • We look for partners who want to be active
  • We try to go above and beyond – and we went all in
  • We got $45 million in ARRA funding- but even that wasn’t enough but we’re all in!

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