Echo Editorial: Major broadband project for rural Ely needs help to complete funding package

A revised broadband project that would provide much-needed service to rural Ely residents in the Town of Morse has hit a funding snag.
The project now seeks to use cutting edge wireless technology to provide up to 200Mbps service to customers within line-of-sight of towers and repeater sites. Customers without line-of-sight may be eligible for service up to 25Mbps.
Currently these residences and businesses have to choose between nearly non-existent speeds from Frontier or gamble on satellite connections.
Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband, LLC gave an update to the Morse board Tuesday, describing how the point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless broadband system would serve over 300 locations in the Burntside Lake, Little Long Lake and Wolf Lake areas.
The $600,000 project would include two 100 foot towers along with repeater sites and at customer homes and businesses Treehouse would install 18-inch receiver dishes and indoor WiFi coverage.
The project has a $150,000 funding gap as it currently sits. The Town of Morse has committed $100,000, Treehouse Broadband has pledged $200,000 and the IRRRB has shown interest in half of the remaining $150,000.
Under current funding rules, the IRRRB only provides up to 25% of the funding, looking to state broadband monies to provide the rest.
But those monies have been committed for the current fiscal cycle, meaning if the state legislature approves additional funds, Morse would have to compete with other projects statewide and wait until next year to proceed.
State broadband funding hasn’t been made available in the past until late fall, meaning projects are faced with winter construction or waiting another year to be completed.
Treehouse Broadband has been providing high speed internet from a series of antennas mounted on the Ely water tower with connections to a fiber line.
Morse officials have been looking for ways to fill the gap and have been working with Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Rob Ecklund along with St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald.
The hope is some federal broadband monies will come to the Range from a stimulus bill that could be made immediately available.
If not, the best Ely area residents could hope for would be service in late 2021.
We’d like to see another funding source for this project and finally get our school children and business owners to have what most others already enjoy: fast, reliable internet.
Let’s hope there’s a way to make this happen sooner rather than later. The need is there. Frontier is not going to upgrade its service and a previous project Morse did with Frontier was shot down by the state because of Frontier’s customer service issues.
In today’s coronavirus pandemic, the internet is no longer a luxury. It is a utility and a necessity for the world we live in.
Here’s an inexpensive broadband project that will help hundreds of people. It just needs $150,000.