REGIONAL- A region-wide effort is now underway to survey local residents to find how many are in need of broadband internet service, and how much households are willing to pay. The results of the …
REGIONAL- A region-wide effort is now underway to survey local residents to find how many are in need of broadband internet service, and how much households are willing to pay. The results of the survey will be used to attract a private provider or providers for broadband service in our area.
Local broadband planning groups in Tower-Soudan, on the East Range, and in the Quad Cities are part of this joint effort, which is being funded by private business donations, Minnesota Power, PolyMet, local communities, and matching grants from the Blandin Broadband Committee.
A $75,000 grant from Blandin to Tower-Soudan earlier this year was used to increase access to broadband internet and technology at Tower-Soudan Elementary and Vermilion Country School, the Tower Civic Center/Depot area, Breitung Town Hall, and also provided free computers to low-income families.
“It is really important for people to fill out the survey,” said broadband committee member Joanne Bassing. “We have to get numbers. If we get good participation, it will show the providers that we really want broadband.”
The survey can also be completed on paper, and copies will be out at area convenience stores and businesses.
“We need to publicize this the best we can,” said Bassing. “We are not mailing this survey out.” Bassing said they hope to have area cities and townships help promote the survey also.
Greenwood Township has been conducting its own survey, in addition to this joint effort.
You can find a link to the survey at www.ramsmn.org under the broadband tab.
The joint Blandin Broadband Committee (BBC) is a collaboration between the Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County, and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. The group met earlier this month and selected NEO Connect to conduct the survey and assist with the planning process.
NEO will identify existing assets within the study area, including existing fiber optic cable, conduit and other telecommunication infrastructure, and assets. Once the existing assets are mapped, NEO will identify gaps in service coverage and will put together a plan to fill those gaps. Other planning activities will be working with local stakeholders and regional service providers, establishing plans and estimated capital costs, and identifying potential partners to facilitate improving broadband infrastructure. This effort will help existing service providers by facilitating open discussion about how to jointly solve communication gaps in coverage as well as improving existing infrastructure to enable faster broadband speeds.
NEO Connect recently completed a study for the Iron Range communities of Hibbing, Chisholm, Cherry, Mt. Iron and Buhl. The study facilitated a plan to apply for grant funding in partnership with a service provider, Consolidated Telecommunications (CTC), a Minnesota-based service provider. CTC applied for and was awarded a $5.2 Million ReConnect broadband grant last year for Cherry and Great Scott townships and fiber to the home is being installed at this time. This project will provide speeds much greater than even the state’s standard.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, internet usage from home has increased by 92 percent across the U.S. The pandemic has magnified the need to have reliable, affordable and robust internet service at home to support telecommuting, online education and telehealth applications and much more.
The study has aligned its goals with the state of Minnesota’s broadband objectives. The state has set a goal for all Minnesota businesses and homes to have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second (100/20 mbps) no later than 2026. Many areas on the Range have less than 10 mbps down and 1 mbps up, which make working from home or distance learning a real challenge.
“NEO is thrilled to be working with the Iron Range Communities and RAMS on this project,” company CEO Diane Kruse said. “We are big supporters of community and regional collaboration to improve broadband services and look forward to working with the key stakeholders of the Iron Range communities and this region to put forward a plan.”
For more information, visit www.NEOconnect.us, or contact Steve Giorgi at email@example.com; or Whitney Ridlon at IRRR at firstname.lastname@example.org.