Last week I followed Senator Klobuchar’s staff around to listen to communities talk about broadband, infrastructure and housing in Aitkin and other places. Aitkin Age recently wrote about the local meeting, highlighting some of the broadband conversation…
Outreach director with Klobuchar’s office, Kurt Johnson, led the conversation on broadband. Currently, the office is working on mapping to identify broadband needs in communities throughout the state and supporting funding or other solutions.
Aitkin County Economic Development Coordinator Ross Wagner said the county has supplemented funds toward increasing broadband availability in the area, adding, “We need outside help to get broadband throughout our county.”
Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative is a member-owned organization that has also invested into expanding broadband services in the area. Stacy Cluff said MLEC has applied for additional grants. However, in 2017 a new tax law passed which limits the amount of income generated from non members. If awarded grants next year, it would affect their tax-exempt status.
The lack of broadband and low-speed standards are barriers to attracting businesses to the area, Wagner said. When the internet is down, some businesses still have the ability to store credit card charges, but if they aren’t accepted when they go through owners lose revenue.
The larger populated areas of the county are served, but outlying areas struggle to connect. “Local restaurant owners find 10-12 cars in their lot each morning with people parked there to use their broadband,” Wagner said. “The schools have high speed, but the kids who live 2 miles out of town can’t connect to do their homework because they don’t have broadband.”