Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely broadband coalition considers wireless plan

Keith Vandervort
Posted 3/14/19

ELY – Members of the Ely Area Broadband Coalition heard an update on several pending projects during a recent meeting. The ad hoc committee was formed to work with area stakeholders in an effort to …

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Ely broadband coalition considers wireless plan

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ELY – Members of the Ely Area Broadband Coalition heard an update on several pending projects during a recent meeting. The ad hoc committee was formed to work with area stakeholders in an effort to collaborate on providing broadband service throughout the Ely area.

The coalition’s steering committee and the city of Ely are currently considering a proposal from Isaac Olson, and his internet service provider business, Treehouse Broadband, to bridge the rural broadband divide in the area through a fixed wireless system utilizing the Ely water tower as the point of contact.

Through a cluster of directional antennas, leased from the city and mounted on top of the water tower, wireless access could be provided to most of the city of Ely, Shagawa Lake area, Town of Morse, and point-to-point links to surrounding towers and hills for more service, Olson said during the EABC meeting, in a telephone conversation. He noted that wi-fi service could reach out as far as five or six miles from the water tower.

“Right now, we’re working on contracts and partnerships for tower access, backhaul, billing, support, consulting, etc., and still have a few months before we can get to the point of connecting customers,” he later told the Timberjay in an email.

If approved, the system could be in operation later this year. As many as 20 customers could be in service in the first three months. “We are committed to a five-year timeline for Treehouse Broadband to grow into servicing the Ely area,” he wrote in his proposal.

Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski said the next step for the Treehouse Internet project is to have the plan reviewed by the city’s projects committee as well as the Ely Utility Commission.

In a separate project, the city of Ely continues to work to develop a broadband loop in the downtown district with Consolidated Telephone Company, or CTC, of Brainerd. “They are showing increasingly intense interest in that project,” Langowski told the EABC coalition steering committee

City officials are still waiting to hear from Frontier Communications on the feasibility of a joint-use agreement for the utility poles in the downtown district to install the fiber lines. “We are looking at using Frontier’s fiber lines as well, to build some redundancy into our system, which is actually a good idea,” he said. “However, we need to get our own fiber installed before we start talking redundancies and who else we loop in with.”

This spring, Langowski will be looking to the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation for funding help for the downtown fiber loop project. “Our intention is to apply for funding for at least half of the cost to install fiber on poles,” he said.

For the other half of the project cost, the city is looking at other financing options, “or anybody who would like to donate some money to the cause.” He noted that the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools is pushing the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners to take a leadership role in high-speed fiber development. “I’m considering going directly to the county to ask for funding help,” Langoswki said. “We need two or three funding partners to get the project brought down to a level where our lease revenues for the fiber will cover our debt service. Obviously, we don’t want to borrow more money than we have funds to pay back.”

The city is reportedly looking at a tax abatement general obligation bond. “Whether it should be a 15-year or 20-year bond is what we are looking at as well,” he added. “What would be great is if we could do a shorter term (bond), borrow the money, get the project built, have the revenues cover the bond (payments), and then expand the system beyond that.”

Langowski told the steering committee that St. Louis County has been “very interested” in the Ely broadband project since the beginning. “Maybe St. Louis County will figure out a way to help us. They have been looking at our project since day one. They are looking at what our solution will be. Maybe we are able to figure out some sort of hybrid (financing) option. We’ll keep pushing on it.”

Blandin grant

Blandin Foundation offered a second round of grant funding this year and the Ely Area Broadband Coalition received another $50,000 in match funding to help support broadband-centric economic development projects.

Funding for several new projects from the Blandin grant was approved by EABC steering committee.

Zach Huberty, of Hak Ely, will receive funding to launch a social networking application, called meetup.com, to match local businesses looking to market their events and services with an established community of users.

Arts in Ely is seeking funds to develop a collaborative website to showcase and promote the Ely arts community. The project has been in the development stage for the past year and they are looking for financial assistance to finish their website.

Incredible Ely has a number of projects in the works, including Elyite 2.0 that builds upon the original web presence by implementing an open directory that supports business listings and volunteer opportunities. The organization is also looking to develop a Google local listing for businesses so Ely-area businesses have a Google search presence. A Community Building Skillshares effort to support economic growth in the area is also being planned.

Installation of improved and expanded wi-fi connections at the Ely Public Library and the proposed pocket park on Chapman Street are also receiving funding.

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Richard

Keith, thank you for your continued accurate recounting and reporting of the efforts of the Ely Area Broadband Coalition. We are collectively working hard to support all Elyites and the Timber Jay's eyes and ears are invaluable to the process.

| Friday, March 15