COLUMN: High speed internet can create new jobs on the Iron Range

This is my column for the Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

High speed internet would create new Range jobs
By Aaron J. Brown

I write this entire column, every word of it, while I am uploading a large but not unusually large piece of video to YouTube for a statewide media organization commissioning my thoughts on the Iron Range economy. In this video – stay with me, this gets hot – I talk about how the video, the one I am uploading right now, is a living example of what the future of northern Minnesota’s economy might hold.

If people can produce media in a wonderful place like northern Minnesota, edit and upload it from their homes or offices, our geographic location is no longer a hindrance, but a major help to our appeal for new entrepreneurs, creative types and young families. It doesn’t have to be a YouTube video. It could be a blueprint, schematics, graphics, a report or software used for any function. The work would be done where the worker wants to live, and “sold” to the employer where he or she needs it.


What was that sound? A sound so loud it was in ALL CAPS. Why, it was the crashing of my upload in a giant ball of e-flames, sending little bits of my video skittering across my computer’s innards, lost forever. Don’t cry for me, reader. If you’ve read this far you probably have an idea where I’m going with this. I’ve got another window open on my computer and I’m taking another stab over there while my brain is formulating this very sentence. Here goes.

I live in the woods about a half hour northwest of Hibbing in Itasca County. We subscribe to a satellite internet service for two reasons: 1) my day job and my sideline gigs both depend on fast, reliable internet access, and 2) dial up is so slow out here it’s a joke, even by 1998 standards. Satellite providers deliver fast download times (except when it’s raining). However, upload times are much slower – a lot more like dialup. For us, other methods of connecting to the internet are not an option, even though DSL hubs and other infrastructure lie just a few tantalizing miles away. Furthermore, our service is expensive, justified only by my specific vocation. Most families prioritize more basic needs ahead of this.

More and more work in our digitized, connected economy can be completed outside a traditional office, while other “real time, real place” work tends to follow wherever people live. If you have a community of 50 middle class creative workers – engineers, writers, software designers, etc., you’ll need a gas station, grocery store, school and clinic to support them, among other things. But even jobs with a hard location (mining for instance, no pun intended) increasingly depend on high speed communication between work sites and parent offices. Where 80 years ago a mine boss like John C. Greenway might have been summoned to New York for orders, today he could attend a video conference with all members of a global ownership team. The same is true for training, re-training and other basic work functions. That’s not to diminish the important of the physical world, just to say that routine matters no longer need to be conducted in person.

Whether public or private, having the fiber optic cable wired to everyone’s house and business is vital, but not the only part of the picture. Education about how the internet can be used to do work and provide for a family is the next, equally important step. Many of the young adults I know in our area are finding ways to start business or hold jobs based in far-away cities because of high speed internet. If those connections were universal and could be advertised as such, we might be able to attract new young families and some of the people who left. All of this is possible, and – for the impact – far less expensive than a billion dollar, publicly financed “jobs, jobs, jobs” project.

Well, I just took a break to eat dinner, go swimming with the kids and build a perpetual motion machine. I see that my upload is complete. I sure hope the next one goes faster. That sure would be a lot more productive and profitable for me, and others. The future of the Iron Range is only partly tied to its past. Today’s mining opportunities are great, but only a concerted effort to create a blended, globally connected economy will create the true prosperity and growth the Iron Range so desperately needs.

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range writer, blogger and an instructor at Hibbing Community College. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Agree. I’m still on dial up because: I’m too stubborn to pay about $250 to set up and then 4X as much per month when I’m only 1.5 miles from the Qwest local hub, yet they won’t come down my road. Yet my summer-only friends who have water access only at the lake get DSL. I hear that there is a Qwest executive who has a lake place. My other choice is Access Minnesota, which is supposed to be good. I know the local technician. BUT Access Mn doesn’t answer their emails which I’ve sent three times asking them to contact me so I can subscribe to their service. I even told the tech guy, but still no response. So, should I really chase them so I can pay them $250 + $60/month? I figure if that is the kind of service I get when I want to buy their service, what will happen when I have a problem and need help.
    So I have dial up, with an accelerator, which makes it tolerable. Really.

  2. Wah, wah, wah….cry me a river..

  3. It’s like electricity in the 30’s and 40’s. Us folks in the sticks need cooperatives to get it. Only the spirit of the cooperative seems to be almost a ghost. Excuse me while I go beat back the goats from the house…..

  4. Unfortunately, you might be more likely to complete the perpetual motion machine than get high-speed Internet so long as state policy is non-existent (except an easy-to-pass “goal” without any thoughts on how to achieve it) and federal policy is predicated on big companies like Qwest making the rules. A coop would be a good idea – as would an approach like Wired West in rural MA. No matter what, communities must find ways of getting a network that puts their needs ahead of short-term corporate profits.

  5. Well stated Steve….Co-ops in the past were successfully led by local citizens, business leaders or politicians.

    With businesses no longer being respected on the being the bad guys, they have little interest in stepping up like in the past. It’s up to the local citizens and Anzelc. Where are they?

  6. Anon, we’ve been over this several times on other threads. Clearly you have an ax to grind with me and/or Anzelc (because you know I run his campaigns). Send me an e-mail or identify yourself and your specific concerns. How are Range businesses being “disrespected?” Why wouldn’t it be in their best financial interests to invest in a money making technology for the future? I don’t think businesspeople are so sensitive that they need ass kissing from a state lawmaker to function. I know they like ass kissing, but it’s not the same as oxygen.

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