Better internet is on the way
January 27, 2023
Good internet service in rural areas has been troublesome for a long time. This is not the world of my grandparents. Waiting for more advanced technology to finally hook up all of rural America, I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.
But the main problem is that when a new great hope for aa foolproof means of communication explodes in one’s imagination, reality sets in and what comes just fizzles. It is like the old saying, “If it seems to be too good to be true, it is.” But we can always dream.
In my early days on the farm before 1962, a crank phone was on the kitchen wall, service provided by the Kalevala Co-op Telephone Company. It was a party line but we could contact the world. Our house phone signal was two longs and a short — rings, that is.
Rotary phones, touch-tone phones, and finally CB units in our vehicles. In the late 1990s, bag phones were great for reception in the hinterland. Cell phones grew in popularity and the bag phones were history. It was a bitter pill. The bag phone was gone — the only phone that brought us service in almost every corner of the little world we traveled.
Underground cable was placed all over western Carlton County by the phone company. The years went by and that cable, or sometimes fiber optics, still didn’t help rural Carlton County people get reliable high-speed broadband. We have tried almost all of them and only a few of us have reliable internet.
The American Rescue Plan Act sent funding to townships and one of the missions they encouraged was expansion of broadband. Our Automba town board sent out a letter announcing that Starlink was available as a broadband provider. We let people know that we had federal funding available, so the township would cover the almost-$700 cost of the equipment if each household would agree to pay $110 a month for the service.
Many in our region had given reports on how good the service was. As we discussed the Starlink service, we learned that its satellites circle the northern hemisphere at a much lower elevation than other orbiting objects. Weather does not appear to hurt reception. Snow melts off the receiver because there is a little heater in the unit. The receiver is pointed north and up and has a wide range, collecting a signal which has three to four satellites in its view at all times.
Ten households have signed up and have the equipment coming. More are talking about taking the plunge. We are leaving the signup window open until March 15.
The Automba board — which I chair — views this as an economic development strategy to entice young families with children into an area that has an aging population and a growing number of weekenders using our area as a playground.
We would like to have a young crowd enjoy the wonder of living here, working from home and, by doing this, building a sound, small-town population that is safe and stable.
It is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Dan Reed is a freelance writer and local historian who lives in Automba Township, where both sides of his family settled 130 years ago.