Ely area broadband study gets numbers

by Nick Wognum -

Faster internet for the Ely area now has some price tags.
Design Nine revealed the final version of a study on broadband for an area defined by the boundaries of the Ely school district.
An estimated cost of $365,264 is for the downtown area with up to 288 locations getting connected to high speed fiber lines connected via poles.
A similar underground system carries a price tag of $584,117.
For service to portions of Winton, Shagawa Lake and Burntside Lake, a six pole wireless system would cost an estimated $345,252. The poles would be 100 foot wooden utility poles.
There is also a proposed downtown WiFi project with a cost of $53,475. This would provide visitors to downtown Ely temporary internet access.
Jack Maytum of Design Nine went over the figures at a meeting in Ely Tuesday.
“I think in terms of my experience of what I’ve seen this would be a perfect place for a pilot broadband network,” said Maytum.
“Not every location in the region can get fiber because it’s not economically feasible - another solution is a wireless solution. Initially you would install fiber in downtown Ely and then use that as a base for distributing throughout the region,” said Maytum.
The six poles would need fiber connections as well.
The key to extending broadband in the Ely area has been a lack of access to phone poles.
City clerk Harold Langowski said he’s been making progress with Frontier.
“Frontier owns most of the poles but when the city replaces the poles we put up poles of adequate height to attach fiber,” said Langowski. “We now have an agreement where they’ll pay x dollars for each pole we replace. I think we’ve come to pretty good agreement on replacing poles as we go forward.”
Maytum said while in Ely especially it is more expensive to put conduit for fiber in the ground, the result is less degradation to cables from snow and ice.
“Directional boring in Ely is pretty impossible,” said Langowski.
Maytum suggested a new micro-trenching option that could bury conduit in a narrow trench.
For the outlying area, Maytum said wireless systems often require line of sight which means homeowners may need to trim trees to receive a high-speed signal.
“Foliage can cause a degradation of signal. We proposed six 100 foot wood poles to get started which shouldn’t require any trimming,” said Maytum.
Homeowners may still need to have a copper or fiber connection to the pole.
“If you put up six poles not only can you use them to get faster broadband in rural areas you can also lease out space on them to wireless service providers or cell phone companies to provide boosting their signal where it’s not very good,” said Maytum.
Who would operate the system was also discussed with Langowski saying the next step may be a request for qualifications from providers like CTC, Midcontinent or Frontier.
“I’ve met with Frontier twice, they’re still really interested. They want to do anything they possibly can to help,” said Langowski.
He added that what’s missing in the Ely market is competition.
“If we can offer one more source it will make everybody provide a little more for services, and hopefully a little more speed,” said Langowski.
Mike Banovetz from Winton asked about the cost for services to be provided.
“The downtown cost may be $300 to $1500 to make a physical connection with a $20 per month subscription fee and an additional $30 to $100 per month for internet connection,” said Maytum. - $50 a month over and above the connection cost -
There was also discussion on how the project can harness the power of the city and other government entities working to improve internet service throughout the area.
“Between the city and the township, in my mind we all need to work together,” said Langowski. “We need to have as many subscribers to interest the provider.”
Maytum suggested a cooperative be formed to keep the project moving forward.
“The advantage of a co-op is you can charge a membership fee initially and then you get an ongoing revenue stream as members pay in. The other advantage is it stays local,” said Maytum.
There was also a question raised over poles being put up and the visual impact they may have.
“I think most people have gotten over the religion of red lights ruining their wilderness experience,” said Ward Nelson. “Most people would put up poles for internet instead of worrying about a wilderness experience.”
Langowski said the next step is to continue to look at options and determine how to move forward.
“We need to partner with the school, with the townships, with Winton, to move forward. We’re never really in lockstep in any project but this is one I think we can be.
“I think we all realize it’s an issue we need to work on collectively. The numbers aren’t that huge, they’re doable, the wireless especially,” said Langowski.
Maytum added the poles “could be added to, moved as you see fit.”