Ely lands $25,000 broadband grant

by Tom Coombe -

Late last year Ely was named one of six Blandin Broadband Communities in northeastern Minnesota,
Now, the Blandin Foundation will contribute funds to help Ely jump start its effort to create a broadband fiber loop downtown and perhaps throughout the community.
City officials were notified this week that Ely will receive a $25,000 grant from the Grand Rapids-based foundation to help fund a broadband feasibility study.
The grant will help cover half of the costs for the feasibility study, with the city expected to get help from both Morse Township and perhaps the Ely School District.
Langowski said the next steps include a meeting to be scheduled to finalize the scope of the study requests for proposals.
The feasibility study will be another milestone as the city looks to get cost estimates and a plan to develop its own broadband network, which in its first phase would involve the downtown area with a loop extending to Camp Street.
It’s not clear how that effort would be funded, but city officials have discussed operating broadband as a utility, and working with a private contractor to offer broadband service.
High-speed internet or broadband has been a priority for Ely leaders, who contend it’s critical in both economic and community development efforts.
They jumped on the opportunity in 2016 to become part of the Blandin initiative. Ely was selected along with Hibbing, Chisholm, Aitkin County, the Mt. Iron-Buhl area and the Bois Forte Reservation/Orr/Cook areas.
The city has worked to develop a public solution as officials have voiced frustration with cost, access and speed issues associated with private service.
They contend that broadband is vital to bridging a rural/urban divide.