New fiber lines will put county on fast track to connectivityThe Middle Mile Fiber Project project will connect critical service anchor sites including state, county, higher education, school districts, libraries and health care within eight Minnesota counties, including St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca and Aitkin and spanning 38 communities, 85 townships and three reservations.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Have you noticed all that orange tubing that’s been lying in ditches, around driveways and along area roadways lately? It’s the first sign that Carlton County is getting “connected” in a big way.
The tubing is part of the fiber-optic cables to be laid during the 2011 construction season as part of the Minnesota Northeast Service Cooperative’s (NESC) Middle Mile Fiber Project (MMFP). The NESC designed the broadband infrastructure project to make world-class Internet speed available to the public sector as well as to private sector technology service providers in unserved and underserved rural areas of northeast Minnesota.
“The Northeast Minnesota Middle Mile Fiber Project will make broadband services viable for a vast geographic region, creating a fiber optic backbone that will serve hundreds of sites along 915 miles of fiber,” explained Melissa Cox, spokesperson for the NESC.
The project will connect critical service anchor sites including state, county, higher education, school districts, libraries and health care within eight Minnesota counties, including St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca and Aitkin and spanning 38 communities, 85 townships and three reservations.
The timeline for current construction of the line includes both 2011 and 2012 construction seasons. Initial Middle Mile construction of a 415-mile outer ring construction is nearing completion, according to project manager Lyle MacVey. This includes an outer regional ring as well as community rings located in Duluth, Cloquet, Ely, Hibbing and Virginia. In all, 25 communities will be connected this year. All facilities should be fully online by the end of February into early March, and approximately 160 “critical” institution sites will be connected to the ring starting around March 2012.
New phases of the construction will get under way in spring 2012. This will include connecting the North Shore routes to Grand Portage, McGregor and International Falls. Additional ring development will also take place between Virginia and Duluth and Cloquet and Duluth. Large scale installations of the balance of the critical institutions will occur, and installation of another 400 miles of fiber is projected.
MacVey said he anticipates the broadband project will be fully completed by the end of the 2012 construction season or the first quarter of 2013, far in advance of the projected 2015 deadline.
Thus far construction crews have used horizontal directional boring to install pipe in targeted communities and neighborhoods, under tar roads, and along railroads, rivers and streams and then the cable is pulled through the pipe afterward.
“As a result of this network,” said Cox, “new and improved technologies will emerge creating economic development possibilities without boundaries of location.”
Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said a study is currently under way to determine how the city can best take advantage of the new high-speed fiber network for economic development purposes.
“Internet communication is the world of the future,” stated Fritsinger, “and it’s important that all can access it.”
The new fiber network is also expected to benefit future generations in school districts by providing access to high-speed connectivity that will impact what students learn and the way they learn it.
“School districts will have access to delivering education using technologies such as electronic text books, virtualization, distance learning, video conferencing, and classroom recording devices,” said Cox.
Rural health care is also expected to benefit greatly from the Middle Mile Fiber Project by making it possible to better serve the community through such services as home health care monitoring and diagnosis.
“Health care facilities will now be able to send real-time transmission of files, such as X-rays,” explained Cox.
With the benefit of fiber connectivity, the Cloquet Public Library will be able to serve more patrons in such areas as applying for unemployment benefits, researching, locating books, video streaming and communicating online.
The new connectivity will also pave the way for more seamless communication among cities, counties and agencies.
“These are only a handful of examples of how access to broadband will change the region,” summed up Cox.
In addition, the NESC plans to actively pursue agreements with “last-mile” service providers such as Frontier Communications so homes and businesses have the opportunity to access the broadband services as well.
The Rural Utilities Service at the United States Department of Agriculture awarded the Northeast Service Cooperative $43.5 million in federal funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in March 2010 to help fund the Middle Mile Fiber Project as a 50/50 grant-loan combination.
For detailed information on the project, visit www.nesc.k12.mn.us/broadband.