Treehouse applying for grants for $1.8 million broadband project
by Parker Loew
Residents along the North Arm Rd, Echo Trail, Grant McMahan Boulevard and Winton Road areas may be getting a new internet service option.
Treehouse Broadband is looking to the future and applying for a grant of $1.8 million to bring multi-gigabit internet to homes on the outskirts of Ely.
“The grant would help immensely to make this project a reality because it takes a big principal investment to get this going,” said Isaac Olson, owner of Treehouse Broadband.
MN DEED has 50 million dollars available of matching grant money in their current broadband grant round, and the Ely area has not seen DEED broadband grant money through the first eight rounds over previous years.
The area east of Ely Treehouse wants to cover with help from the grant still relies on phone lines that haven’t been upgraded in 30 years since they were installed.
Underground fiber installation can often be preferable to overhead for reliability reasons.
“We’ve seen multi-week outages on overhead phone lines due to storm damage, which wouldn’t be an issue if the lines were underground,” Olson said.
If their $1.8 million project application is successful, Treehouse plans to install multi-gigabit fiber internet service to 200+ homes and businesses over the next two years.
“As a private business, trying to invest in a project where we don’t see returns for 30, 40 years just isn’t possible,” he said. “This grant money comes in to assist in getting the infrastructure built out so that service can be affordable.”
Treehouse Broadband started in 2019 in Ely, providing fixed wireless internet service via antennas on towers, but internet speed needs are outpacing the best wireless technology improvements expected over the next decade.
“Once the fiber is in the ground, we can expect it to have a lifespan of 50+ years, with only minor upgrades to electronics on each side needed over time as technology moves forward,” said Olson.
They are working to avoid the troubles of previous fiber installation attempts in the area through installation techniques learned.
“We’ve installed miles of private fiber over the past year and are ready to take on a larger project. Understanding the ground conditions around here and using equipment and installation methods that can handle the rocky ground is important,” says Olson.
They plan to utilize local labor and in-house construction where possible.
“We can cross-train on fiber splicing and customer installations and keep our employees working all winter long, instead of hiring contractors from far away and having to pay for hotel stays during peak tourism season,” said Olson.
For some on the outskirts of town, high-speed internet is currently only an option through Starlink, but this service has its limitations, and many can’t access it due to topography.
Through the next five years, over $650 million will be distributed to broadband providers within Minnesota with the goal to provide fiber-fast service to all Minnesota addresses.
To have a higher chance of securing the grant, Treehouse Broadband needs as many people as possible who live within the area the grant project covers to fill out a form on their website specifying where they live and what their internet needs are.
You can support the Treehouse Broadband grant application by filling out the short survey at treehouse.mn.