Several years ago, commissioners in Lake County in Northeastern Minnesota began researching the possibility of bringing fully network connected broadband services to the region.
“We thought, ‘Why not Lake County? Why not us?’ We knew how much it was needed,” Commissioner Rick Goutermont said.
That vision and foresight has paid off. Lake County was recently awarded a $56.4 million loan and a $10 million grant to deliver high-speed broadband services to Lake County and parts of St. Louis County. The funds were made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law by President Obama in February of 2009, and delivered through USDA Rural Development’s Broadband Initiatives Program.
The award was celebrated during a ceremony on the steps of the Lake County Courthouse on Friday, Oct. 15. The event was attended by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Al Franken and Representative James Oberstar.
“Broadband will make all of our citizens the most productive in the world,” Rep. Oberstar said. “It’s bringing rural America into the 21st century.”
Sen. Klobuchar shared a story about her father Jim, who grew up in Ely, Minn., and became a reporter for various publications in Minneapolis. When Jim was home in Ely and needed to file a story on deadline, it was often difficult to establish a working wire connection.
“Thanks to this project, it’s going to work now,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “This means a reliable connection for schools, businesses and homes right here in Northeastern Minnesota. This funding also creates immediate jobs during construction and establishes a base for future job creation and economic growth.”
Sen. Franken highlighted an isolated region near the scenic Boundary Waters Canoe area of Northern Minnesota where Internet service has always been spotty. The Recovery Act funding will bring reliable service to the homes and businesses in the area.
“This funding also means that if you get sick and it doesn’t make sense for you to travel the long distance to a hospital, you can see a doctor using telemedicine,” Franken said.
Thirteen projects totaling about $185 million have been selected to receive Recovery Act funding to improve broadband services in rural Minnesota. The funding will deliver improved broadband service to about 164,000 homes, 11,500 businesses and about 685 essential community facilities.
“We worked hard to deliver electricity and telephone services to rural areas in the 20th century,” said Colleen Landkamer, State Director of Rural Development in Minnesota. “Now we’re working to deliver broadband. The future of our rural businesses, schools and households are counting on it.”
To find out how USDA can help your rural community through the Rural Utilities broadband program click here.