Closing the Digital Divide in rural Northern Minnesota communities

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Whether you’re streaming videos, or learning remotely, or working from home people need to use the Internet. However, for some rural communities in the Northland, residents and businesses don’t have the luxury of fast Internet speeds or reliable Internet access.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently secured over $600 million federal funds through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. These funds will go towards closing the Digital Divide with state projects bringing reliable, affordable, high-speed internet access to households across the state.

“You’ve got counties like, Pine County, as of last year was at 64% of the residents didn’t have access to high speed,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “There are 136,000 households in our state and small businesses that don’t have high speed. They’re almost all in greater Minnesota”

However, for small businesses operating in rural areas in Northern Minnesota it can be difficult to make a profit when relying on a business website for customers with little to no Internet access. Bryan Nelson, the owner of 218 Handyman Services, provides his services to residents living in rural areas of St. Louis county.

“There’s nothing, not even a cell service. It’s dead,” Nelson said. “It’s okay for camping.” However, Nelson says if he is trying to work he can do a little business while he’s there. “But most of the time I can’t, because there’s nothing.”

Nelson’s services are limited when people can’t reach his website in rural areas, and he needs to rely on word of mouth. “I go around a lot of places. I’m all over the county. But there’s a lot of places where I have nothing, no signal,” Nelson said “And those people have no Wi-Fi. They call me because they heard it from somebody that I was in the area. They knew I was there, but they had no idea because they don’t have Internet.”

Residents living in small communities like Saginaw and Twig struggle with having little to no Internet access. More often than not people need to rely on public areas for Internet.

Steve Torgeson, one of the three Grand Lake Township Supervisors said residents need to come to the Township Hall to use the Internet.

Torgeson said the grants received from the federal government, will help move the project forward, and if there’s any more money available they could expand it. “It’s been difficult for a lot of our small businesses. There are a lot of people that do struggle and call and complain that they would like to have Internet,” Torgeson said.

For more information about the federal funds received for closing the Digital Divide you can look here. For other stories expanding Broadband Internet access you can read more here.