State to fund Itasca County rural broadband proposal

PHOTO: Gavin St. Ours, Flickr CC

PHOTO: Gavin St. Ours, Flickr CC

Company officials just announced that Paul Bunyan Communication received a nearly $2 million grant from Minnesota’s Border to Broadband program to bring high speed internet to underserved regions. Their proposal would connect 1,250 households in rural Itasca County to better, more affordable internet options than currently available.

My friend Tom Anzelc, fellow Balsam Township resident and new chair of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, told me that the IRRRB will consider incentives for private companies to connect more households to high speed internet services at the December board meeting. This project will be among others in the region that could see additional funding.

UPDATE: The Bunyan project will cost $6 million, with this grant, the IRRRB and the company combining funds to cover costs. The complete list of Border to Broadband project grants is here.

Disclosure, my home in Balsam is on the secondary list of homes that could be connected, not the first wave but possibly later if project costs are managed. So I’m certainly interested in this for reasons that longtime readers know all too well. Still, this area where I live has scads of families that would benefit from this project even if I don’t. Young families from three different school districts are impacted, and so are plenty of businesspeople and professionals. As I wrote before, it’s not just hot shot hipsters seeking high speed internet anymore; it’s a full cross-section of the community demanding to be connected to everyday internet technology.

As the Iron Range region suffers through what will be a long period of contraction in the mining industry, projects like this matter more than most people realize. If people who live in rural areas have more access to the internet, they have better chances of finding work, using educational services, starting businesses and working in the e-economy. If rural communities have more access to the internet, they become more attractive to professionals, entrepreneurs and workers who seek a better place to live.

High speed residential internet is a key building block for a stronger and more diversified economy.


  1. Fingers crossed up here in Marcell ….!

  2. Honestly all of scienic and households that are on roads off of scienic need access to quality internet options. The lack if quality internet impacts a regions ability to perform alternate occupations available with high speed internet. Our northern regions will continue to be victim to limited industry economic options, and their eb and flow of prosperity within the region. Beyond the economic missed opportunities, the youth of the region are entering post secondary education without vital experience with STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathmatics) program fundamentals. Litterally setting them up for failure, nearly every degree program and industry now requires technology education.
    Also, some of the highest paying occupational goals for future graduates are in fields that rely on technology, including medical careers, computer science, engineering for mines, electrical engineers, and even small businesses need skills to use accounting and business management software.
    The fact is for both the communities economics and the community members are paying the price for lack of access to a fundemental resource in our current society. Forcing people to relocate just because of a lack in oppertunities, oppertunity that could be reestablished if small businesses had the resources to form. I may not like that our requires this to have a chance, but its a fact either way.

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