Cook County and Arrowhead Electric Association

In recognition of their visionary early work on community access to dial-up Internet which led years later to their innovative partnership that enabled deployment of over 800 miles of Fiber to the Home network stretching from Lake Superior to the end of the Gunflint Trail and the Canadian border.

  • In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture awarded Arrowhead Cooperative over $16 million in grants and low interest loans to build a fiber-to-the-home broadband network throughout Cook County. This USDA funding was provided through the Broadband Initiatives Program of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • Cook County awarded Arrowhead Cooperative a $4 million grant from its 1% local economic development sales tax fund to build fiber optic network in Grand Marais.
  • As an early and consistent Blandin Foundation partner in the Get Broadband and the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community programs, Cook County implemented sophisticated and innovative broadband adoption initiatives, including increasing the capacity of local community-owned ISP Boreal Access, creating a public-access distance education hub, tele-health and streaming local sports on local public TV.

 

John Twiest, General Manager of True North Broadband

Why is it important that rural Minnesotans have broadband access?

For Cook County and other rural counties, it is about having the same opportunities the metro areas have. With high speed internet available, our children on up to our business owners are on the same playing field. One of the biggest comments I heard when meeting with our business and resort owners was the fact that they could now compete not only within the state, but nationally and internationally. We have local business owners shipping their products worldwide. Our children have the same access to information that children in the metro areas have, actually, even more accessibility.

What do you see as your biggest broadband victory?

Bringing high speed internet access into the county and being able to support it on a daily basis. Having Arrowhead Cooperative own True North Broadband and being able to respond to subscriber issues in a timely manner is a huge success.

What role did local leadership play in your accomplishments?

Local leadership saw the need in our community. We were ranked last in the state for access to high speed internet. They started asking questions, formed a broadband commission, and led the direction. The leaders of Cook County and of Arrowhead Cooperative had a vision, the stars aligned, and Arrowhead was able to fulfill that vision.

What words of encouragement would you give to community leaders working to improve broadband access?  

Don’t stop asking questions or looking for solutions. Continue to talk to your legislators about having more money available to bring broadband access to the rural areas. Partnerships are critical. Local government can make a huge impact in developing relationships and partnerships. You don’t know what you don’t know, but there are experts out there that can help answer those questions.

 

Sara McManus, Subscriber Services Manager at True North Broadband

Why is it important that rural Minnesotans have broadband access?

Economics –from filing your taxes to applying for jobs, having internet access can improve your economic opportunities. Local businesses can connect with customers from all over the region with active social media accounts, update webpages, live webcams, online bookings, and more.  Education -Students need internet at home to complete school work. It also allows students access to online education and degree programs.

What do you see as your biggest broadband victory?

This project, to build a fiber-to-the-home network from scratch, in such a remote, geographically challenging area, is a victory. To go from nothing to gigabit service in five years is amazing. Today we connect over 3,000 homes and businesses with world-class internet. It took tremendous dedication from our membership, our management, our board of directors, and our staff.

What role did local leadership play in your accomplishments?

The county’s financial contribution to the project not only gave us much-needed funds but also signaled their support for the endeavor and emphasized that this would be a county-wide service.

What words of encouragement would you give to community leaders working to improve broadband access?  

We regularly hear from subscribers who have better internet access at their remote cabin up the Gunflint Trail than they do at their home in the metro area. It’s great to be able to deliver world-class internet to our community.

 

Roger Opp, Arrowhead Electric Cooperative Board President

Why is it important that rural Minnesotans have broadband access?

Gee that seems obvious. I couldn’t conduct my life without broadband. It’s particularly important for Cook County because we have so many people who are seasonal visitors or maintain two homes. It’s important that they maintain contact. The more contact, the longer they stay and the more money they spend in our communities.

Equally important, our hospitality sector couldn’t operate without broadband.

My late wife and I retired here in 2014. Before that, I was a seasonal, weekend visitor. I needed to stay in contact with my business and used to do it on dialup, then DSL. Now I’m retired full time and I couldn’t live here without broadband.

What do you see as your biggest broadband victory?

First, I want to say I’ve only been on the board 2.5 years. Reflecting on what’s happened, though, I would have to say the big victory was getting the two grants that enabled us to build the network. We received $16 million in federal grants and loans and Cook County gave $4 million grant to provide broadband in City of Grand Marais, which was not originally in our service territory. Those two buckets of money allowed us to serve the entire county and helped with economies of scale. It would have been impossible to provide complete coverage to everyone in the County without those grants.

What role did local leadership play in your accomplishments?

I was delightfully surprised at the unity. The county and county commissioners, local politicians, Senator Klobuchar – everyone came together. This is a city where controversy isn’t uncommon, but everyone wanted broadband so bad that they came together.

What words of encouragement would you give to community leaders working to improve broadband access?  

I would encourage them to spend time to understand the industry. The more time you spend learning and researching, the better decisions you’ll make. Every situation is different. We’re in a fortunate position because there were limited providers up here so competition wasn’t much of an issue. That’s not true in every community. You can’t do a one size fits all and it doesn’t work to copy someone else’s business plan. Work with your community to tailor your strategy to overcome your specific challenges.