High-speed internet reaches more homes

Close to 1,000 homes and businesses in Douglas County will get high-speed internet access in the next two years, mostly south of I-94 but also near Lake Carlos and along part of Lake Miltona.

These areas were included in Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement Tuesday, Jan. 21, of $23.3 million in border-to-border grants aimed at extending high-quality internet access to unserved places in Minnesota.

“The Border-to-Border Grant Program has a direct and immediate positive impact on people’s lives across rural Minnesota,” said Nancy Hoffman, chairman of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition. “The grants will help students with their education, patients access health care, businesses reach customers, and job seekers find work.”

South of I-94

Rodella Jacobson, a retiree who runs a business from her Union Lake home near Forada, said she cheered when she heard the news from Kent Hedstrom, manager of Hoffman-based Runestone Telecom Association. Runestone received a grant of $1.76 million, the fourth-largest grant award in the state, to extend internet access to 908 homes and businesses

“We’ve lived out here 12 years,” she said. “And it’s been horrible internet access for 12 years.”

Jacobson lives in an exchange controlled by CenturyLink, a Louisiana-based telecommunications giant that told the Echo Press last year that it had no immediate plans to improve internet access in Douglas County.

Runestone has moved into Century Link’s turf, unchallenged by that company, to the delight of residents there.

“People that work from home are not able to because they don’t have internet access,” Jacobson said. “With the school providing school work on Chromebooks, that doesn’t happen.”

Jacobson and other organizers played a big role in helping Runestone land the grant, Hedstrom said, by knocking on doors and urging neighbors to send letters of support that Runestone submitted with its grant application to the state. Jacobson even attended a Halloween party in Forada to spread the word.

“Without their efforts, this would have never happened,” Hedstrom said. “There’s many people to thank here.”

Runestone will bring fiber-optic cable that delivers up to 1 gigabyte upload and download speeds south of the interstate, to parts of lakes Mary, Andrew, Latoka, Maple and Lovers to roughly County Road 17 SE in the east and everything in between.

North of I-94

North of the interstate, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association received nearly $43,000 in state grants to bring speeds of 1 gigabyte upload and download to 24 homes along Krohnfeldt Drive on the southwest side of Lake Miltona.

It was one of six grant applications Gardonville had submitted for state funding.

“Obviously we were very disappointed that we were only awarded one project,” said Gardonville CEO Dave Wolf. “However, we are excited to construct our Krohnfeldt Drive project this summer.”

He said he plans to work directly with the neighborhoods that did not get funding, including a number of homes near Lake Victoria, to figure out a way to start construction this summer, or resubmit applications for next year’s funding.

“A pile of work and enthusiasm went into the design and application process,” he said. “I’m fairly certain we’ll begin a phased but smaller construction project in those neighborhoods this summer, without any grant assistance.”

Charter Communications received a $74,540 grant to extend internet service to 43 homes, two businesses and two farms east of Lake Carlos Project, near the intersection of Highway 29 and Prairie Road NE. The speeds offered in this neighborhood, 940 megabytes per second download and 35 megabytes per second upload, won’t be as fast as the other locations, but it will still surpass the state’s speed goals.

Internet providers will be able to apply later this year for another round of grants worth $20 million to be awarded in 2021.

The governor’s office said the state received requests for $70 million in funding for 80 different applications during the latest grant application round.