Broadband Internet is being rolled out again in rural Crow Wing – Brainerd Dispatch
BRAINERD — Nearly 2,000 more homes and businesses will gain access to high-speed broadband internet in northern Crow Wing County.
The Crow Wing County Board submitted a bid to Emily Cooperative Telephone Co. on August 23 for the project, covering areas in Ideal and Jenkins townships and the city of Jenkins. These include the southern shores of Upper and Lower Whitefish, the eastern half of Lower Hay, and Lakes Bertha, Clamshell and Pig in the Whitefish Chain.
The $3.5 million project is one of the last to be funded from the district’s share of US dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act. Of the total cost, Crow Wing County will contribute $600,000, while the remaining three government partners have agreed to jointly contribute $600,000. Ideal Township, where most of the new connections will be installed, is responsible for $460,000. Jenkins Township will pay $95,000 and the city of Jenkins will pay $45,000. The Emily-based provider agreed to fund the remaining balance of the project cost, or 66% of the total cost.
Using funds related to the pandemic for this purpose, county officials said, improves residents’ ability to get their affairs done through remote technology, whether it’s distance learning, working from home or telemedicine. A total of 1,972 new connections will be installed in this project.
Jenkins Mayor Jon Lubke said bringing broadband internet to more Jenkins residents is a long-term goal for the city leadership. In 2018, the council considered funding options, but the small and fragmented nature of the project made it difficult to secure grants. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the importance of broadband connectivity, Lubke said.
“We weren’t completely neglected – we were pretty underserved,” said Lubke. “And also our community, it hasn’t really worked for some of our companies. And then COVID came along and I think it made everyone realize how important it would be to be connected to broadband.”
Partnering with neighboring jurisdictions to form a larger area of improvement made the project more viable, Lubke said. When leaders learned that the county intended to invest in broadband with its allocation of pandemic aid funds, they decided to submit the ongoing plan for consideration.
“I know it’s a big number, but it covers a wide area. And this isn’t just a patchwork of fiber, cable to fiber. This is pretty much a high-end fiber-to-home for all borders from border to border for Jenkins City, Jenkins Township and Ideal Township,” Lubke said. “I believe when we get this going… I expect other communities to work together to make this happen.” So I would definitely appreciate your support. I know my friends down there would definitely like it. And the people we serve need it.”
Commissioner Bill Brekken submitted the application for the award of the contract and Commissioner Rosemary Franzen seconded. The motion passed unanimously, prompting a solemn cheer from Ron Ommen, Supervisor of Ideal Township.
“When this matter first came up, Dave Peterson, Ideal’s CEO, was interested and the first thing he did was pick up the phone and call (County Administrator) Tim Houle,” Ommen said. “We relied on Tim’s expertise, the expertise of the people of the county. I know that county-township relationships don’t always run smoothly. With us you have a real friend.”
This broadband project was the county’s second attempt after the geographic scope of an original proposal failed to garner full support from partners. Meanwhile, Emily Cooperative Telephone Co. independently pursued its own expansion project, resulting in a reduction in the size of the area included in the county’s tender.
The project is the latest in a series of grant-funded broadband rollouts since the pandemic began, including one approved in Bay Lake Township and Baxter in April and those approved in Long Lake and Lake Edward townships in March.
In 2020, Crow Wing County allocated $1.5 million of its funds from the first federal relief package — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — to three expansion efforts: Camp Vanasek in and around Baxter, including an area around around Borden Lake the Bay Lake and Garrison community halls and a corridor along County Highway 13 in Lake Edward Township.
In February 2021, CTC received and matched $350,805 from the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program to bring broadband to 180 unserviced homes and businesses in the Ross Lake community.
And later in 2021, Crow Wing County received a $5 million federal grant for low- and middle-income communities on behalf of CTC. The project proposed by CTC included broadband deployment in an area north and northwest of Crosby-Ironton, including Cuyuna, Trommald and Wolford Township, and part of Irondale Township to the south. There are a total of 919 apartments or shops in the project area, 492 of which are currently unserviced.
Last summer, TDS Telecom notified the Pequot Lakes City Council of its plans to install 12.5 miles of fiber optics to bring improved broadband service to approximately 1,080 service addresses. This was part of a larger project to lay 60 miles of fiber in Cass and Crow Wing counties, including the communities of Breezy Point, Jenkins, Pine River, Backus and Hackensack.
CHELSEY PERKINS, Community Editor, can be reached at 218-855-5874 or
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