St. Louis County is not waiting around for federal or state support – they are moving on broadband now

It feels like areas without adequate broadband have leveled up in this game of getting broadband. Suddenly more federal funding is becoming available and as state grants continue to be available, odds are better for the remaining areas to get awards. But this new level of what looks like abundance comes with its own challenges. We have seen with recent RDOF results that federal funding may have inadvertently thwarted local efforts to get state funding – leaving communities like Le Sueur County waiting to hear what happens to them next. For years we’ve seen federal CAF programs leave communities with speeds lower than they need and with vendors not meeting deadlines. So jus like our favorite videos games, level up can feel good – but it comes with new rules, assets and solutions.

So how to beat this new game of getting broadband. St Louis County has increased their level of engagement. GovTech reports

During a workshop session Tuesday, St. Louis County commissioners weren’t voting on anything, but they committed to one thing for certain — broadband Internet expansion. “We’ve got to be better than this,” Board Chair Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, said. “We need to do better. We have seen firsthand that broadband is lacking in so many areas.” Jugovich was one of the commissioners who shared anecdotes about the lengths they’ve seen people go to find good Internet connections in rural St. Louis County.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed a long-standing inequity in rural areas, they said, unifying the board in the name of action. “They need access,” Commissioner Paul McDonald, of Ely, said, describing those cars outside the Babbitt library. “The timing is right for us to develop some type of plan where we can be a player in the game.”

It’s time to act…

McDonald noted the “talking and talking” about a massive federal infrastructure bill, which hasn’t materialized despite several years of political promises. State solutions are progressing, but haven’t reached most rural places — where service won’t generate enough megabits to stream video in what has become a virtual meeting world.

The county is setting goals…

To that end, the board was met with a first-of-its-kind proposal which would bring St. Louis County into the broadband arena. Dubbed “Form 9000,” it would set goals to help fund broadband expansion to reach all county residents by 2023 with 25-megabits-per-second service, and 100 megabits per second by 2027. Upload speeds of 3 megabits per second and 20 megabits per second are included in the proposal.

Form 9000 is the draft of a program that’s been proposed to the board by county administration.

The board wouldn’t vote on it for some time. “We have set an internal goal of having the program finalized by Sept. 1, 2022,” Matthew Johnson, planning and community development director, wrote in an email.

This entry was posted in Building Broadband Tools, Funding, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

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

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