Northland gets $43.5 million for fiber-optic broadbandWhile Duluth ogles Google, another Northeastern Minnesota effort already has landed a $43.5 million federal grant to extend broadband Internet capabilities across the region.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
While Duluth ogles Google, another Northeastern Minnesota effort already has landed a $43.5 million federal grant to extend broadband Internet capabilities across the region.
The Northeast Service Cooperative announced the federal funding Thursday, part of the economic stimulus package. The money will come through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Half is a loan and half is a grant.
The effort is aimed at providing service to mostly public facilities and entities at first.
The effort covers St. Louis, Carlton, Itasca, Lake, Cook, Pine, Aitkin and Koochiching counties — and will serve 221 sites along more than 915 miles of fiber, said Paul Brinkman, executive director of the cooperative based in Mountain Iron.
“We’re talking about 1 gigabit connectivity between cities as small as Orr and as big as Duluth,” Brinkman said, noting the effort could dovetail well with the Google effort in Duluth. “This is how Google would backhaul that information in Duluth to the rest of the world.”
The effort will serve public-sector agencies including school districts, law enforcement and emergency services, libraries, health-care organizations and state, county and municipal offices. Construction of the so-called Middle Mile Fiber Project is expected to begin in 2011 and conclude in 2012.
The fiber also will be available for private-sector broadband providers to offer to their subscribers in private homes across the region. Ultimately, supporters say, it could reach nearly 245,000 households across the region.
“We would be selling [access] to telephone companies like Qwest and cable companies like Mediacom and to public partnerships as well,” Brinkman said. “There’s really no competition out there for this kind of … inter-community connectivity.”
The cooperative has been working for more than 10 years to bring high-speed communications to schools and other facilities across the region.
Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the Blandin Foundation and 19 coalition partners have been awarded a separate $4.7 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant.
Eleven demonstration communities throughout rural Minnesota also will receive up to $100,000 each to develop and demonstrate broadband projects through the grant. These “demonstration communities” include Cook County, Grand Rapids/Itasca County, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Stevens County, Upper Minnesota Valley region, Thief River Falls, Willmar/Kandiyohi County, Winona, Windom and Worthington.