Connect Itasca redoubles effort to expand rural broadband

Connect Itasca

UPDATE: Hear the Morning Show interview that I did with Itasca County manager Trish Klein and Northern Community Radio’s Scott Hall Tuesday about this topic.

Itasca County’s efforts to bring broadband access to every resident continue despite an early setback. The initial goal is to gather survey responses from underserved residents. Early confusion made it difficult for many respondents to find the survey online, so the county is adding more time and new efforts to reach those affected by internet service gaps.

If you live in Itasca County, especially if you are unserved or underserved by your current internet options, please fill out this survey right away. You’ll need to know your county commissioner district (1-5) and be ready to answer questions about your internet needs. The deadline is Oct. 31.

But the county is adding ground forces to this effort. Canvassers will be headed out to rural areas to talk to residents about the project and gather names of potential future customers for lower-cost rural broadband.

The surveys will help create a sense of demand for broadband so that private providers, federal grants and other partners can be attracted to the project.

I was on KAXE this morning talking about the issue with Trish Klein, Itasca County Manager.  After years *literally* in the wilderness on this issue, I’m prepared to say this is one of the most encouraging projects to expand broadband to unserved areas I’ve seen in the Iron Range region.

As I said on the radio, broadband is a public utility now. We can either willfully keep large sections of our population in the dark, or we can accept our collective responsibility (and economic opportunity) to bring the whole region into the modern age.


  1. Aaron…Provide some color/facts to your statement – “despite an early setback”. The reader is left to interpret this as meaning no one responded to the initial survey, therefore, not a problem. Market forces are working just fine.

    So now more time is being given to do another survey and “help create a sense of demand for broadband”, not define a real need or demand, so that private providers, federal grants and other partners can be attracted to a project which invests their capital into a product no one needs nor wants?? Makes no sense.

  2. The early setback was the fact that they used a form suggested by another organization and quickly found that it was not gathering the information they really needed, nor was it preparing people for what they’d need to know going into the survey. This gave them only a few hundred of the surveys, when they needed more. Further, the fact that underserved or unserved areas don’t have reliable internet service proved to be an even bigger barrier to reaching people than once thought. Here in Balsam they were putting up handmade signs in the gas stations, but it’s hard to translate that into online survey completions.

    This project is needed, just as power lines and roads proved necessary 100 years ago, even thought there were backwater trolls of the time saying otherwise. I actually live here, Bob. Every day. And I am one of many people I know who use the internet to generate economic activity and access education for their kids. But here we go again, having a conversation we already had multiple times before.

  3. Aaron,
    I wonder if you are aware of Verizon 4G mobile cellular coverage ( ) in the region. It’s not universal over the whole county, but may be available even further out than the coverage map shows, with the right antenna. The speeds are pretty darn good, much better than the satellite dish at least, and no more expensive. Seems like building a few transmission towers would be cheaper than laying hundreds of miles of high-speed cable.

    • I’m quite familiar with that map. We don’t fall in the realm of reliable data service at our home. It’s close (literally a mile or so). Cellular data plans, like satellite plans, are restrictive on bandwidth. They are useful for the amount of internet people need for their phones, but are not reliable sources for businesses or heavier usage. Putting in fiber is expensive. Eventually fiber will be everywhere. Why fumble our way along? Invest now with a long range strategy.

      • I’ve recently been able to receive a quite good 4G signal in a fringe area several miles from where the map says it should be available (this was in another state with less trees than MN, however, I must admit). Millenicom has a 20G plan for $90/mth if you can get reception. You’d likely need some sort of tower to clear the tree canopy up there. Might be worth looking into rather than waiting for cable to be laid.

  4. “Why fumble our way along??”…..cost, Aaron, cost, that’s why.

    It will disproportionately cost your friends, neighbors and all Minnesotans who don’t benefit from providing hi speed internet to you, Anzelc and the handful of others who might benefit from stringing thousands of miles of fiber throughout Balsam.

    Mediacom or someone will increase your internet speed when you’re willing to pay your fair share..

  5. Really is like talking to a wall, isn’t it, Aaron ?

  6. Add some value to the discussion Jackie, we’re trying to define a perceived problem and offer serious solutions. You’re wasting electrons..

  7. I’ve heard from several people over the past few years who moved to Iron Range rural areas and have small business enterprises that rely on a website. Slow and unreliable internet service if they can even get it due to living in a non-service gap area can be very expensive. Many people with non home-based jobs also do a lot of their work at home if they can. That is a real drag on entrepreneurship and our local economies.

    I have senior relatives that lived during the time when electricity and telephone expansion grew in the northland. As one always says when talking about this and the “old” days, thank goodness for our government because private businesses, market forces, didn’t see any easy profit in it so who knows how many decades residents would have waited to get these basic services. Our government invested in the long-term benefits.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.