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    NESC expanding region's broadband


    26 days ago

    MOUNTAIN IRON—Ground was broken Tuesday morning and construction will soon be underway to expand broadband in the region.

    The $4.25 million project will add 136 route miles in three counties, expanding the Northeast Service Cooperative’s total network by 11% for a total of 1,366 miles.

    “We’re in the super highway business (of fiber networks). So we’re going to run that highway and make sure there’s lots of off ramps that’s going to allow people to connect and use our service, not just this year but five-10 years down the road,’’ said Paul Brinkman, NESC Chief Executive Officer. “We’re always looking ahead.’’

    The project started in 2019 and NESC was awarded a $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration in 2021. The remaining $825,000 (20% of the project) is NESC funds.

    “With this project, we’re going to expand our business assets in Virginia and Hibbing for business growth and economic development,’’ said Brinkman. “That was part of the reason we were awarded these funds.’’

    NESC will also expand its own network in Kanabec, Pine and Isanti counties, expanding toward the Twin Cities, Brinkman said.

    “We’re middle mile,’’ he added, “which really means we’re providing infrastructure to interested parties in telecommunications. We work with 18 telcos (telecommunications companies). We work with Verizon, AT&T and others for cell towers. And then we provide direct service to some of the larger governmental agencies in the area like St. Louis County, the City of Duluth, and State of Minnesota.’’ In addition to that, NESC also has public/private partnerships that use NESC fiber to build out what they need for their customers.

    Construction on the new project should start in the next couple of weeks, according to Brinkman, and 80% of the project should be done this summer, weather permitting. They can continue to build until late summer of 2025.

    “We run high capacity fiber lines down key routes wherever our service area might be,’’ and put connection points along that route for now and sometimes for the future.

    He said the 136 miles will be built from the end of their current network in Moose Lake to just north of Cambridge and into Pine City.

    Representatives for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith were both on hand to recognize the project and the work of NESC. NESC Board members were also took part, as did St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson.

    The representatives call the project a “monumental’’ one, which is part of the bi-partisan infrastructure bill that calls for broadband in every zip code in America.

    Providing broadband for underserved areas was compared to providing rural electricity in the past and support was pledged to continue increasing broadband access.

    Nelson stated broadband is more than a want for businesses in today’s world. “You need this to run a business. It’s an absolute need.’’

    A previous news release from the EDA, said the “grant will allow Northeast Service Cooperative to meet the region’s explosive demand for broadband connectivity to boost businesses, provide new opportunities and diversify the region’s economy.’’

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