Ely, Minnesota Coalition to Complete Feasibility Study

Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) and the Ely Economic Development Authority (EEDA) are set to complete a broadband feasibility study and release report results by late-November.

The ABCs Of The Ely Feasibility Study

The Ely Area Broadband Coalition (Ely ABC) is a collection of city, township, school district officials, and private citizens working in partnership with the EEDA to improve broadband in Ely and the surrounding area. In mid-2017, Ely ABC and EEDA submitted the Request for Proposals (RFP) to conduct a broadband feasibility study.

The group is keeping an open mind and will consider a variety of models. In addition to publicly owned infrastructure, they're hoping to hear ideas that will include partnership possibilities or recommendations on encouraging the private sector to improve local services.

The City of Ely is in St. Louis County and located in the northeastern corner of Minnesota. The rural community has a population of approximately 3,500 year-round residents and covers 2.74 square miles. The community, known on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, is known as the location of the North American Bear Center and the International Wolf Center.

In November 2016, Ely was one of six communities to receive a $25,000 Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program grant from the Blandin Foundation in partnership with Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and Saint Louis County. Ely ABC and EEDA utilized the BBC grant to fund the broadband feasibility study. 

Through the BBC program, the six communities will receive broadband planning, along with technical support and assistance to advance local technology initiatives over the next two years. The BBC program has assisted 18 other rural communities across Minnesota with broadband planning.

Blandin Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Kathy Anette,

“Our experience tells us that, especially in broadband work, leadership matters. To have commitment both at the local level and from IRRRB and St. Louis County says something about the Iron Range. We look forward to standing with leaders in these six communities as they design and claim ambitious, connected and healthy futures.”

Next Step For Fiber To Ely And Beyond

According to Ely ABC RFP, the planned project area will cover public school district 696, approximately 252 miles, connecting a fiber optic loop in downtown Ely and extend connections out to surrounding townships of Morse and Winton. In addition to the feasibility study, two surveys were conducted; one focused on residents and another focused on business owners. The results are still under review, but for the project to move forward, local officials need to show significant community buy in for the project:

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak,

“[W]e can make a convincing argument that we need to be providing true broadband speeds throughout the school district. If we show we have strong backing from the entire community within the school district, we have a better argument to say ‘here’s what we have and these people are not being served’ as they are in the metro and more urbanized communities.”

The next step is funding. According to the RFP, multiple funding options are being considered from general obligation bonds to federal fundings with specific emphasis on leveraging Connect America Fund Phase II grants. Blandin Foundation officials are encouraging Ely ABC to partner with other regional economic development organizations such as the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce, the Entrepreneur Fund and the non-profit Incredible Ely for funding support for the project.

For more information on efforts in rural Minnesota, read our 2014 report All Hands On Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.