Iron Range 2020 predictions from 1998, includes technology plans

Aaron Brown (via Hibbing Daily Tribune) has an interesting series comparing to what’s happening now with a 2020 vision for the Iron Range published in 1998. (A lot has happened related to broadband on the Iron Range. I wrote about the early history in 2007. Aaron wrote about it more recently in 2018. The Blandin Foundation is still working with communities on the Iron Range!)  Aaron’s look is fun and will bring you back…

Other correct predictions: an older population that needs more care; huge demand for health care workers; and changing technology. Though it’s clear that the ‘98ers didn’t understand that technology very well.

For instance, it was adorable to read Frank Rajkowski’s March 8, 1998 story about how CD-ROM technology was going to revolutionize education. The last time I touched CD-ROMs was when my sons and I used them as wheels for rubber band cars in their science class. But the message behind the CD-ROM story still stands, if not the medium itself. Education now depends heavily on cloud computing and internet-based resources.

That technology knowledge gap provides the most frustrating factoid from the erstwhile “2020 Vision.” According to a Feb. 22, 1998 story by Christina Hiatt, Hibbing possessed one of the only small town high speed internet services in the state. In fact, Hibbing was one of the smallest towns in the country to have cable-to-the-door broadband.

“The Bridge” as it was then called, was a service of Range TV & Cable. But customers were slow to adopt the company’s innovative product. They wanted cheaper dial-up service. The Befera family sold the company to the international cable giant Mediacom which now charges more for internet than the Bridge did (as do all cable internet providers). Rural areas just outside Hibbing are just now getting high speed internet, but even yet coverage gaps remain.

“2020 Vision” details the story of six students at Nashwauk-Keewatin High School who developed the school’s first website using HTML coding. My friend Craig Hattam, now retired from teaching in the Hibbing Schools, talks about using the internet in his classroom, almost as though it were the Wild West.

Indeed, it was. But we now know Hibbing missed its chance to attract new telecom companies and software developers when it could have marketed its high speed internet advantage. And I’d attribute that mostly to the fact that no one with influence or capital knew enough about the technology.

Some, like former Hibbing mayor Richard Nordvold, talked about efforts to woo small tech firms. But it takes more than just a few public officials to make that happen. It takes a knowledgeable private sector and young entrepreneurs. We lacked those people then. Arguably, we still fall short in that sector, though there exist many more resources for those we do have.

Indeed, when it comes to Hibbing’s early internet advantage, we were apes with iPads. By the time we figured it out everyone else had passed us by. Did we learn anything from this? Let’s hope so. That’s the nice thing about the future. There’s always more of it.

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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