North Branch gets wireless with CARES funding and Genesis Wireless

The Isanti-Chisago Star reports on city-wide broadband in North Branch. It’s been a long time coming but they have it. They found a provider that would help make a plan…

[City Administrator Renae] Fry, who has been spearheading the push for more expansive high speed internet access, told how the process for achieving this mirrored the city’s previous internet access, explaining how it was very slow getting off the ground, but once everything fell into place, it reached a conclusion at a rapid pace.

“North Branch has known for years there is a core where high-speed internet is expected,” Fry said. “But there is about 30 square miles of the community that has been struggling with nothing better than dial-up. And that’s the challenge they’ve been living with, that they’ve been trying to address and have come to their elected officials time and time again to find a solution.”

Fry explained how four years ago, she invited all of the internet providers to come up with a way to provide high-speed access to all of the city.

“And I was told, ‘absolutely not, it’s not in our business plan. We can’t afford it. We won’t do it. But if you are willing to pay for it, we’re happy to chat with you.’”

Finally, Fry said she approached Genesis Wireless. “And I have to give a lot of credit to Jay Manke because he didn’t tell me no. What he told me was ‘let me do some research.’”

Fry said what he came back with about three years ago was putting up about 24-30 towers that would offer point-to-point wireless system, with the backbone being fiber-based, but the delivery is from a transmitter, to a receiver, down to the home. She said the initial cost was estimated at $800,000 to $900,000.

They found some funding…

Fry said once the city received COVID CARES Act money, their initial thought was to apply some of that money for high-speed internet. However through research, they couldn’t be certain if that was an acceptable use of the money.

“The concern for North Branch was that if we spent it for broadband and upon final audit, we’re told it was not an allowable expenditure, the city would have been on the hook to repay that money,” Fry explained.

Once it was figured out broadband was probably an acceptable expense, there was too little time before the November, 2020 deadline to go ahead with the project. However, Fry said city staff was able to figure out the city had previously budgeted for public safety, which was also an acceptable CARES expense, enough money that if they now used CARES money, they could transfer the previously earmarked money over to pay for broadband, which had actually decreased in scope to only require three new towers plus installation on existing towers at an expense of around $500,000.

“I have to give a lot of credit to my elected officials, because they didn’t even hesitate. They said ‘absolutely. This is such a worthwhile endeavor. This is something the city has needed for so long. We support it whole-heartedly.’”

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