NEO Connect hired to help plan for better broadband on Range

NEO Connect has been hired to help improve broadband access on the Range. NEO Connect has been hired to help improve broadband access on the Range. |  Photo: WDIO

Created: June 05, 2020 01:13 PM

Utilizing the school district boundaries of the Virginia, Eveleth/Gilbert; Mesabi East and the northern portion of St. Louis County Schools, local leaders from the Iron Range communities located within those boundaries have come together to study ways to improve broadband and Internet services.  

Through a grassroots fundraising effort sponsored by the local townships, the East Range Joint Powers Board, MN Power, PolyMet Mining, and a number of other local entities, with generous matching support from the Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), the committee hired NEO Connect, a broadband consulting firm, to assist with the planning activities.

The Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) is designed to advance broadband in rural Minnesota communities which is critical to economic development, health care, education, workforce and quality of life. The participating communities have access to technical expertise, planning assistance and an opportunity to obtain financial resources to implement their broadband initiatives. BBC is a collaboration between Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. All of these partners have come together to improve broadband services in the region.

An Internet survey is available for residents in the area to provide feedback and information about the level of services currently available, how the Internet is currently being used by residents and what is most important to community members in regards to high speed Internet services.  The survey can be found here; and all residents are urged to participate and provide their input.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Internet usage from home has increased by 92% across the U.S. The pandemic has magnified the need to have reliable, affordable and robust Internet service at home, to support telecommuting, online education and telehealth applications and much more.

The study has aligned its goals with the State of Minnesota’s broadband objectives.  The State of Minnesota has set a goal for all Minnesota businesses and homes to have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second (100/20 Mbps) no later than 2026. Many areas on the Range have less than 10 mbps down and 1 mbps up which make working from home or distance learning a real challenge.

NEO will identify existing assets within the study area, including existing fiber optic cable, conduit and other telecommunication infrastructure and assets.  Once the existing assets are mapped, NEO will identify gaps in service coverage and will put together a plan to fill those gaps.  Other planning activities will be working with local stakeholders and regional service providers, establishing plans and estimated capital costs, and identifying potential partners to facilitate improving broadband infrastructure. This effort will help existing service providers by facilitating open discussion about how to jointly solve communication gaps in coverage as well as improving existing infrastructure to enable faster broadband speeds.

NEO Connect recently completed a study for the Iron Range Communities of Hibbing, Chisholm, Cherry, Mt. Iron and Buhl.  The study facilitated a plan to apply for grant funding in partnership with a service provider, Consolidated Telecommunications (CTC), a Minnesota-based service provider.  CTC applied for and was awarded a $5.2 Million ReConnect broadband grant last year for Cherry and Great Scott Townships and fiber to the home is being installed at this time.  This project will provide speeds much greater than even the State’s standard.

“NEO is thrilled to be working with the Iron Range Communities and RAMS on this project,” company CEO Diane Kruse said. “We are big supporters of community and regional collaboration to improve broadband services and look forward to working with the key stakeholders of the Iron Range communities and this region to put forward a plan.”

For more information, visit  Steve Giorgi at:; or Whitney Ridlon at the Dept. of IRRR at:

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