USDA Rural Development State Director Colleen Landkamer alongside federal, state and local officials today visited Mountain Iron, Minn. to celebrate the completion of Northeast Service Cooperative’s $43.5 million fiber optic project.
“USDA is committed to providing broadband to rural areas,” Landkamer said. “Broadband is as vital as electricity was 80 years ago. Investments like the Northeast Fiber Project create ladders of opportunity for underserved rural communities that may have otherwise not been a possibility and are vital to the economic sustainability of rural America.”
The Middle-Mile Fiber Project expands into unserved and underserved regions impacting eight counties, including St. Louis, Cook, Lake, Pine, Itasca, Koochiching, Carlton and Aitkin. Construction for the three-year project provided hundreds of seasonal construction jobs throughout the entire process.
Over 320 critical service sites spanning the eight-county northeastern region are now connected to the fiber network, including: sovereign nations; colleges and universities; k-12 Independent School Districts; health care facilities; community libraries; and city, county, and state facilities.
Some of the opportunities that have been created since the implementation of the of the project include: school districts increasing connectivity by 10 times and are now able to offer 1:1 initiatives with iPads for students; libraries are able to provide better services for computer users; health care facilities have improved medical services and are able to offer telemedicine; and counties have the ability to quickly and safely transmit and receive electronic records and data files.
Funding for the project came in the form of a $43.5 million loan and grant combination through USDA Rural Development’s Broadband Initiative Program (BIP) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Some additional partners include Rural Networks who supplied the fiber optics necessary to complete the project, and Frontier Communications who assisted in the expansion of last-mile connectivity in rural areas.
The Broadband Investment Initiative Program (BIP) was established in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). The primary goal of the Recovery Act was to provide a fiscal boost to the nation during the economic crisis. BIP funding provides financing to address the opportunities of rapidly expanding access and quality of broadband services across rural America and meet the goals set by the Recovery Act.
Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested over $192 million through BIP to provide access to high-speed broadband for rural communities throughout Minnesota. For more information on broadband and telecommunications programs, visit www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/farm-bill-broadband-loans-loan-guarantees.