Approximately 17,500 homes and businesses in Minnesota that are currently unserved by high speed internet could get connectivity in the near future.

These areas, including 66 unserved in Chisago County, are eligible for financial support from the FCC Connect America Fund, which helps offset the high cost of extending broadband service into rural areas. The FCC will be distributing these funds through a “reverse auction,” which is scheduled to launch July 24.

According to the FCC, providers will compete for up to $2 billion in support to expand access to broadband to nearly 1 million homes and locations in unserved areas over the next decade. The auction will provide opportunities for new entrants to the marketplace, regardless of technology, including phone companies, fixed wireless service providers, satellite providers, cable companies and electric broadband providers.

“It is the broadband providers that secure CAF2,” said Chisago County HRA-EDA Executive Director Nancy Hoffman. “We can work with them to get more funding and get this upgraded to get fiber into the home. It’s very expensive, and we’d like to get more done throughout the county.”

The county has already received two Border to Border grants from the state of Minnesota, which brought high-speed internet to the rural areas of Sunrise and Fish Lake townships.

“When we were working on getting these grants, I didn’t realize how many home-based businesses there are in the county,” Hoffman said. “I’ve talked to a few people in Sunrise with the new service up and running, and they’ve said they’re saving a lot of money.”

In the spring of 2015, Chisago County conducted a “Got Internet” survey. When asked what they would likely do if they had high-speed internet access, Chisago County residents responded:

• 35 percent said they would telecommute. At the time of the survey, 66 percent of the residents commute 30 miles or more to work.

• 45 percent said they would use high-speed internet for student access. Students in K-12 are required to use online tools. Without high speed internet, students cannot access their schoolwork. With high speed internet, residents could take college classes while living in Chisago County.

• 86 percent said they would use it for web surfing and social networking. Also, 20.4 percent said they would access health information, 79.8 percent said they would get entertainment, and 36.5 percent would use it for gaming.

• 31 percent said they would operate a business. Higher speeds allow a business to innovate and grow. It is necessary to have high-speed internet for business expansion in the community.

According to the FCC, broadband access is essential in the 21st century for jobs, education, information and economic development. Since 2011, the FCC has targeted more than $9 billion in support for rural broadband expansion to over 4 million homes and small businesses through its Connect America Fund.

“Many different industries need to have better broadband in order to do what they need to do,” Hoffman said. “The health care sector, education, and economic development would all benefit from quality high-speed internet.”

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