Funding will bring better internet service
December 16, 2022
A city of Cloquet broadband project was among nearly $100 million in internet connectivity grants announced by Gov. Tim Walz last week.
Dubbed “the largest single investment in broadband infrastructure in state history” in a city news release Friday, the grants are spread across 61 projects as part of the Border-to-Border Broadband program administered by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Walz said the funding and projects would dramatically improve access for thousands of residents, including 33,000 homes and businesses in 48 counties.
“This investment is essential to making Minnesota the best state to live, work and raise a family — no matter where you live,” Walz said in the news release Dec. 9.
Cloquet’s grant came in partnership with Brainerd-based Consolidated Telephone Company, and several other communities as part of the company’s Woods to Waters Broadband initiative. The $4.9 million local grant will fund what are considered last-mile projects connecting some of the most rural residential areas of central and northeastern Minnesota, or some of the most underserved. The grant covers an area including parts of Cloquet, Cass County, the city of Rice Lake and Gnesen Township, both north of Duluth, and Sylvan Township west of Brainerd.
The local funding will be used to connect 1,459 unserved locations, along with 345 underserved locations, to a fiber-to-the-premise network with internet speeds that would exceed the state goal.
Cloquet city at-large councilor Lara Wilkinson said it was great news for taxpayers and the city’s efforts to become more technology-capable.
“The outcome of this process has been amazing,” Wilkinson said in the news release. “We all recognize the fundamental necessity of affordable, consistent broadband access in our community, and the grant is a major step toward achieving this goal.”
Legislation responsible for the Border-to-Border funding was authored by Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko. Passed into law last summer, the bill sought drought relief, along with further investments in broadband and agriculture. Retiring from his seat on the Minnesota Legislature at the end of the year — to be replaced by Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River — Sundin wrote the Pine Knot this week to say there was no Republican support for the bill in the House, in contrast to nearly unanimous support from both parties in the Senate.
Consolidated Telephone’s Cloquet project will improve service in the northern part of the city. The project will pass by 246 homes at a cost of $984,790 — funded by $400,000 in Minnesota Border-To-Border funding, $300,000 in city of Cloquet America Rescue Plan Act funding, and $300,000 from Consolidated Telephone Company.
Also as part of the grant, a portion of Thomson Township will see 92 homes receive improved access at a cost of $531,000. The next step in the process is for Consolidated Telephone to work with the state to gain project approvals and roll out timeframes for construction.
With little expertise in broadband, the Cloquet Economic Development Authority applied to be part of the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Communities Program, whose consultants with technical expertise help guide partnering municipalities through discussions.
“We cannot thank the Blandin Foundation enough for their incredible leadership in assisting our community engagement process on broadband,” said city administrator Tim Peterson, who also thanked Consolidated Telephone and said the city was looking forward to working together on the project.
Joe Buttweiler, Consolidated’s director of business development, agreed.
“We look forward to providing everyone with fast, reliable internet and top-notch local customer service for years to come,” Buttweiler said.
Multiple resident and business surveys within the local grant area reported 66 percent of respondents indicating an inability, but willingness, to work from home. Additionally, 62 percent of retirees indicated broadband was needed to remain in their residences.
Greater access to broadband means less likelihood of migration out of the areas and encourages business growth, sources said.
Cloquet community development coordinator Holly Hansen thanked the city’s broadband committee, which features a mixture of citizen representatives, technology experts and civic leaders.
It was the Cloquet Broadband committee that concluded the best partners for the city were Consolidated Telephone and the Fond du Lac Reservation. Consolidated Telephone was determined to be more ready to lead an immediate grant application process with the city, the news release said.
“The (committee) was instrumental in the success of this project being funded,” Hansen said. “They are collectively incredible.”