Fredenberg MN celebrates broadband – and looks at how it might happen in other areas

The Bemidji Pioneer reports the good news for Fredenberg…

Here is a story to match the motto of Fredenberg Township: “A pleasant blend of progress and tradition.”

The 1,300 residents among the reservoirs north of Duluth now have access to some of the fastest internet speeds available anywhere, thanks in part to taxpayer support — a tradition as old as the New Deal.

“This is like getting rural electrification to all the towns,” said Clay Cich, a Fredenberg town supervisor who worked for years to bring broadband to the shores of Fish and Island lakes. “It just changes everything.”

Taxpayer support refers to a State Broadband grant…

The $3.9 million Fredenberg project, led by CenturyLink, includes $1.8 million in federal and state grants and offers gigabit speeds — ten times faster than many urban residents can get.

The area is excited and hopeful but the article also looks at the need for more support to help other areas get service…

If a business can’t get a return on its investment, it probably won’t make that investment. This is the conundrum of rural broadband and why a push from public dollars is needed to make those final connections.

“As we’ve expanded, we’ve covered all the areas where it made economic sense — those who don’t have broadband today are so low in population density, it is difficult to offset costs,” said Brian Bissonette, marketing supervisor for Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications. “Without the support of grants, we wouldn’t be able to justify the initial investment.”

Paul Bunyan has brought much of Beltrami County and its neighbors online and is looking east to add to its 27,000 members. The cooperative recently started work on a service center in Grand Rapids and is busy laying cable in central Itasca County. Western St. Louis County and southern Koochiching County may be next.

“If you live outside a city on the Range, you’re probably stuck without adequate broadband access,” Bissonette said. “If we were able to get more funding, we might be able to do that.”

State grants bridge many investment gaps, but MacKenzie said the total amount needed to bring every Minnesotan online is “unknowable” and that state money is just a “small but critical” part of private, federal and local investments.

They also looked at the return on investment for taxpayers…

It’s worth the burden on taxpayers, according to a study from the Blandin Foundation, which found that among three rural Minnesota counties “the annual collective economic benefit for residents would surpass the public/community investment in one year,” though it will take six years to pay for itself in more sparsely populated areas like Lake County.

“The whole point of broadband is not an end in itself, it is a means to … quality of life and wealth creation,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “At the same time, it’s a hard topic for local leaders to organize around — it doesn’t pull your heartstrings like kids or trees.”

More than half of Fredenberg homes didn’t have internet service when town officials started seeking solutions to that problem four years ago. It took meeting after meeting, call after call, but at last the money was secured and CenturyLink started installing fiber cables — providing speeds that well exceed any current state goal.

These fiber-to-the-home networks should especially be encouraged, Joselyn said, since they are “future-proof.”

She stressed that the state’s 2026 goal, with a much higher upload speed, will be essential to ensuring the economic returns seen in home businesses, health care, education and other needs where users to send large files and not just download or stream them.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN, MN Broadband Fund Awards 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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