Itasca County seeks to extend broadband to every household

Connect ItascaThis is some of the most exciting news I’ve had a chance to share in a while. For at least a decade I’ve advocated for rural high-speed internet investment here in Northern Minnesota where technological infrastructure will be an important part of economic diversification.

Itasca County, which includes Grand Rapids, forests, 1,000 lakes, the western Mesabi Iron Range and my house, has set a bold goal to extend broadband to every household. I am one of many partners involved in helping make this happen.

Below you’ll find the press release. Note the important survey mentioned. If you live in Itasca County, especially in unserved or underserved areas, PLEASE fill out this survey. The survey will be available at the Itasca County Fair, which opens later today and runs through this upcoming weekend. The survey is an important step in attracting private sector partners to the project.

‘Connect Itasca’ sets goal of connecting every household to broadband

Itasca County is leading an ambitious new effort to extend broadband internet to every household. Officials ask you to complete a survey that will help make the new “Connect Itasca” initiative possible.

“We are hungry for broadband in Itasca County,” said Itasca County Administrator Trish Klein. “Everywhere I go I talk to people who operate a business out of their home or who would like to but can’t. I also hear stories about our children who are expected to go home and complete work that requires high speed internet. In some cases this is just one more disadvantage for already disadvantaged kids. Realtors talk about the lack of broadband impacting the sale of homes.”

In Balsam Township, Aaron and Christina Brown use the internet to make a living. Christina runs a nationally-recognized frugal-living website from their home, and Aaron teaches online college courses and runs his own website. They pay $130 a month for the best available satellite service, which is severely limited and doesn’t allow for real-time video conferencing or online media production.

“The fact is we live in rural Itasca County, with three kids in the Grand Rapids school district, and we need high-speed internet to do our jobs,” said Aaron Brown. “Our current internet options are oppressively expensive and prevent us from expanding our services or taking certain jobs. The fact that the county is getting involved in solving this problem is very exciting. There are many more people just like us who could add to Itasca County’s population, tax base and economy.”

“The Brown family story is similar to that of 51% of the households in Itasca County,” says County Administrator Klein.

Beginning Tuesday, Aug. 12, to coincide with that week’s Itasca County Fair, the county will be collecting surveys generated by the Broadband Champion and Support service. Participants can do the survey at the fair or online at https://connectitascans.servicezones.net. The goal is to determine the interest and need for broadband service in underserved or unserved parts of the county, and to identify community members willing to serve as local “champions” for the Connect Itasca project.

Klein said the county’s goal is to show compelling data demonstrating the need and willingness to pay for broadband service outside locations currently served. The end result could take many different forms, ranging from a private provider, a cooperative, or a public-private partnership between Itasca County and a private provider.

“We don’t know what the solution looks like yet,” said Klein. “We are committed there will be one.”

Itasca County is home to more than 1,000 of Minnesota’s famed “10,000 lakes.” The county combining woods, waters and minerals now prepares for a future that hinges on information technology and advanced education.

“I see internet as a utility like phone and electricity,” said Klein. “I also see it as the key to our economic viability. Many feel the same. We just need to band together and make it happen.”

To complete the important broadband survey, look for the Connect Itasca booth at the Itasca County Fair or go to https://connectitascans.servicezones.net to fill it out at your convenience.

DISCLOSURE: I helped write this press release and am doing some volunteer work for the project. I do not have a financial interest in the outcome of this project, except for my professional need for more broadband internet capacity at my home office.

Comments

  1. I’m with you , Aaron. Broadband IS the future of the Range …the one thing that will obviously help bring the diversity that is so desperately needed.

  2. The link for the survey keeps asking for authentication.

  3. Would this service extend to summer cabins? My family has cabins on Big Bear Lake, and we would appreciate better Internet service. I am confident that there are other cabin owners who would as well.

    • The only way to determine how robust the service is would be to establish the demand. So please fill out the survey and have anyone on your lake or in your area do the same. The more people sign up (and nothing is binding at this point) the easier it will be to find a private partner to share in the investment.

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