Broadband Expansion to Help People on the Range

Updated: January 31, 2020 10:37 AM

People choose to live in the country for a reason. But some make sacrifices, like going without high speed internet. 

That's about to change for about 700 households in the Cherry area and east of the airport in Hibbing. "I've got goosebumps," shared Kip Borbiconi, who lives in Cherry. 

A $7 million dollar broadband expansion project will break ground this spring. This has been a huge effort for several years on behalf of many stakeholders. A $5.2 million dollar grant from the USDA that was just announced means it can move forward.

It will be built by CTC, in partnership with the Northeast Service Cooperative. "We've already been talking to residents and businesses, to see what we can offer. Pre-sign up is going on now," explained Anita Hollenhorst, from CTC. "Once the ground thaws, we will start digging."

It can't come soon enough for people like Jon Benz, who runs J & M Retrievers and Kennels with his wife. "What CTC is doing is going to make a night and day difference for us," he shared. "I don't have to spend time running into town to go on the internet and develop our website."

Other business owners have concerns about the internet too. Betsy Olivanti knows, as she helps them through the Small Business Development Center. "When we talk to them, they are worried about not having the speed to conduct business, sometimes even in downtowns." She herself moved to a spot where she could access better internet, as she works from home.

The NESC already has 1200 miles of fiber line they are operating. The IRRRB, St. Louis County, local school districts,and others have helped along the way. Executive Director for RAMS, Steve Giorgi, said, "Expanding broadband has been a priority for us. We wouldn't be here without Blandin and the IRRRB recognizing how important this is for the Range."

The Blandin Broadband Community Group helped with a feasiblity study to get the grant going. Tom Whiteside was part of the group. "This is going to bring the Iron Range in to the future," Whiteside said. 

There are open houses scheduled for the end of February at the Cherry Town Hall. Thursday, February 27 from 4-6pm & Friday, February 28 from 9-11am.

And just last week, Governor Tim Walz announced the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is awarding $23,270,933 in Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program funds to 30 broadband projects across the state.

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