Hometown Focus reports…
Currently most of northeastern Minnesota is considered either unserved or underserved by broadband service. However major efforts are underway to overcome the most significant barrier, which is the high cost of deploying broadband infrastructure to rural communities. Beginning in 2015 Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation financially supported broadband infrastructure to households through two large grants to Clinton and Balkan townships, and in 2019 through a grant to Aitkin County. In 2016 and 2019 the agency partnered with Blandin Foundation and St. Louis County to help fund the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program to support initiatives in communities throughout the region. The BBC (still in action) spurs access to broadband and increases the number and sophistication of users across the region.
One hundred and one small projects resulted from BBC, everything from installing Wi-Fi on school buses, in parks and campgrounds; launching tourism apps; checking out portable hot spot devices at libraries; community websites; business technology centers and co-working spaces; feasibility studies to strengthen federal and state grant applications; and, donating refurbished computers to people. The 101 projects were geared to increase internet use because increased internet use drives private companies and rural co-ops to invest in broadband utility infrastructure.
The providers responded and massive infrastructure projects have either occurred or are on the very near horizon. Private providers in the region include Paul Bunyan Communications, CTC, Frontier, Century Link, Mediacom, SCI Broadband, Mid Continent, NESC, Consolidated Telephone, True North Broadband, Zito Media, HughesNet, ViaSat, Emily Telephone Cooperative, Cooperative Light & Power, and Arvig.
The Iron Range (traversing Aitkin, Cass, Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis counties) is lucky to have two foundations to help lead and support broadband effort but it also takes local champions and willing providers.