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Fond du Lac Reservation in line for high-speed broadband expansion

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is one step closer to gaining improved access to high-speed broadband Internet access. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that Minnesota's Northeast Service Cooperative will receive ...

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The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is one step closer to gaining improved access to high-speed broadband Internet access.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that Minnesota's Northeast Service Cooperative will receive $6 million in grants to provide broadband service to subscribers on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the News Tribune that access to high-speed broadband allows communities to improve the quality of life of their residents. He said broadband allows local business owners to sell their products to a wider range of customers, helps schools provide more advanced learning opportunities and provides resources to hospitals.

"All of these things are designed to provide opportunity, equal opportunity to business owners, to students, to folks who are in the health-care system," Vilsack said. "To make sure we improve quality of life and support quality of life."

The grants include $3 million for a project within St. Louis County and $3 million for one in Carlton County; the Fond du Lac Reservation straddles the county line. Fred Underwood, IT director for the Fond du Lac band, said officials hope to begin construction before the year ends. The project must be completed within 24 months.

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"We want to get moving on it as quickly as we can," Underwood said. "It's going to have a significant impact."

The Fond du Lac band will contribute $2.2 million to the project. Underwood said that once construction is completed, 1,200 more households will have access to high-speed broadband. Members of the band are not the only ones who will have access; broadband will be available to everyone in the project area.

The USDA is trying to focus on helping Native American communities, Vilsack said.

"This particular grant is a continuation of our ongoing effort (to help) tribes ... of investing a good portion of our grant money in those particular areas," he said.

The Fond du Lac Reservation is not the only area receiving assistance in this latest round of broadband funding. Projects in South Carolina, Montana, Wisconsin, Alaska, Oklahoma and Virginia also are receiving grants or loans to help bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities.

Two Minnesota companies - Erskine-based Garden Valley Telephone and Brainerd-based Consolidated Telephone - also are receiving loans to help them provide greater bandwidth to subscribers.

Vilsack said providing communities with improved Internet access has been a priority of the Obama administration - something he hopes will continue.

"Today 98 percent of America actually has access to broadband," Vilsack said. "Obviously we have two percent that doesn't. That's a focus and that's an effort that we'll continue. That's why we're making these grants and loans."

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGYCARLTON COUNTY
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