USDA invests $10 million grant for internet access in Northern MN
The USDA is investing $10 million towards internet access in rural areas in Hubbard, Itasca and St. Louis counties. This is part of the ReConnect program of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill. The bill would help provide $65 billion to expand reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all communities across the U.S.
Having secure access to high speed internet is becoming more of an essential public utility rather than a luxury. USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak, said providing internet in rural areas is the first step to improving infrastructure. “This is just critically important. Families obviously need the opportunity to have high speed Internet businesses needed to expand markets. Farmers needed to do precision agriculture, schools needed for distance learning, and obviously health care systems needed for telemedicine. So there are many purposes and reasons why we need to get this to a rural communities in Minnesota and elsewhere.” Vilsak said.
Vilsak also said it’s difficult to get faster internet access because of too many ongoing projects and not enough resources. “Once all of the resources that are available to the USDA under the Reconnect program as a result of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, you’re then going to see the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission begin to invest nearly $63 billion to try to meet across the country unserved areas that are currently mapping the country now to figure out exactly where the unserved areas are.” Vilsak said.
The Paul Bunyan Communication Co-Op, will help with providing internet access in Northern Minnesota. The goal is to make it possible for people in rural areas to work from home, streaming, and more. Brian Bissonette, the Marketing Specialist at Paul Bunyan Communication Co-Op, explained why having quality internet is needed. “I think the pandemic drove home the issue that high quality, reliable broadband is essential to all Americans and that access is lacking in a lot of areas, not just here in northern Minnesota, but throughout the country. Now we only serve northern Minnesota and we’re doing what we can as fast as we can, but it takes time.” Bissonette said.
Bissonette also said since Paul Bunyan Communication is a Co-Op, they wouldn’t be able to do these projects without grants. “You can see why it’s trouble as far as these folks having access to Internet, because the investment, it just takes a little bit more and the return on that investment is not nearly the same as it would be a high, densely populated area. And so that’s why these grant programs are created. And it’s certainly doing what it’s intended.” Bissonette said.
Bissonette explained why these grant programs continue to be provided and so we can get this done hopefully sooner rather than later. “When you’re going to an area that might have, let’s say, ten people per square mile as opposed to like in Minneapolis, where it may be 400 and the cost of construction is still the same, you can see why it’s trouble as far as these folks having access to Internet, because the investment, it just takes a little bit more and the return on that investment is not nearly the same as it would be a high, densely populated area.” Bissonette said.
However, the construction to provide faster internet will take serval months to complete. While the federal grants, help with access to broadband, the construction is a very time-consuming process.
For more information about internet access in the ReConnect program you can look here https://www.usda.gov/reconnect.
For another story about improving internet access you can look here https://www.wdio.com/front-page/top-stories/major-broadband-investments-for-48-minnesota-counties/.