Morse board gets update on Treehouse Broadband project

The Town of Morse board of supervisors received an update from Treehouse Broadband at a Nov. 5 meeting.
Isaac Olson and Ward Nelson addressed the board. Morse has pledged $100,000 toward expanding internet services in the township. The IRRRB also awarded a $150,000 grant for the fixed wireless project.
Olson said repeater units are being installed on Burntside Lake including one on Oliver Island.
Nelson said Burntside Lodge now has internet at the resort including 22 cabins through Treehouse.
Nelson said customers along the North Arm Road are also being hooked up via a tower installed at the YMCA. He cited a township resident at the end of the road that didn’t have cell service and slow internet.
“Now they have fast internet,” said Nelson.
Olson said Treehouse is approaching 100 customers and that Nelson was brought on board to assist the growing company.
“What’s amazing to me about this technology is that as long as you have line of sight you can go from one repeater to another and another one and you don’t sacrifice any speed or capacity which is fantastic,” said Nelson. “There’s been so many false starts up here and this stuff works and it’s all doable.”
Nelson said Treehouse has a prospect list and that COVID-19 has underlined the importance of high speed internet.
The list of people interested will be put into three categories, those who have line of sight to the water tower, the B list would be connecting by pinging and the C list is those who need infrastructure built to them.

Nelson said anybody who has expressed interest will be communicated with and given realistic expectations.
Olson said the repeater sites can be bolted to a building in the winter time as well. He has two college students working in addition to Jason Hedloff who is doing installations.
Olson said Treehouse now has an antenna on the Winton water tower as well. From there Treehouse connected the cabins and two classrooms at the Vermilion Outdoor Learning Center.
Berrini suggested making a presentation at the Dec. 7 legislative meeting in Ely.
Nelson said after false starts in the past it’s great to see a new company that is actually working and providing service.
Olson said they provide unlimited service and the average customer uses 600 to 1,200 GB per month.
Berrini asked if this will help attract businesses. Olson said it will help resorts. Soderberg asked about down time. Olson said there were two weekends in a row where the upstream provider had problems for a couple hours and the next weekend there was a nationwide outage of CenturyLink that affected providers all over.
Olson said SpaceX Starlink will be a good compliment to Treehouse because speeds and service are better provided locally and installation costs for Starlink are upwards of $1,000 compared to $100 to $300 for Treehouse.
If Treehouse can’t get to someone then Starlink could be an option for them. Olson said he will be testing a Starlink receiver to see how it works.
Nelson said in comparison to satellite dishes Treehouse can be mounted to a tree because the cone is wider.
Olson said he had a customer who wanted the service and climbed a tree himself. Olson said they’re not afraid of a unique install.
Nelson said there is a vice president of Medtronic looking for service and that this will be an economic engine for Ely.
Olson said there are lease agreements being signed with property owners which often take time.
The board also heard about a project being worked on by James Devine who spoke to the board about the Hidden Valley Road which is owned by private parties.
Devine said the road is currently 22 feet wide and he would like to get a grant to increase the width to 32 feet.
He said the cost is estimated at $180,000 to widen and add eight inches of class five and providing ditching.
Berrini said the township can not put money into the road. Soderberg said the township does give money to the ski club.
In other business the board:
• Heard from clerk Nick Wognum that he has been finalizing the CARES act funding reports. Morse received $30,000 initially plus an additional $886 for election supplies. Morse added polling booths to allow voters to be spread out in the polling place.
• Berrini said he spoke with IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips on the township’s request for funding. St. Louis County is also being approached for funds to purchase four 40 acre parcels along the Taconite Trail.
• Soderberg said he spoke with St. Louis County about assistance in purchasing a new ballot counter in return for Morse continuing to allow people in an unorganized area north of Ely to vote at the town hall. At the general election Morse election workers had to hand count ballots from that precinct. Commissioner Paul McDonald is also being contacted.
• Heard from treasurer Mary Ann Lekatz that the general election went very well. Voter turnout was at 92 percent with 37 percent of voters casting absentee ballots. She said Morse had two party challengers during the day. Lekatz requested purchasing two additional portable voting booths which the board approved.