County seeks grant funds to build more broadband

The unique funding opportunity made possible by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act targets low to moderate income communities to improve internet access in support of activities such as telecommuting, telemedicine, distance learning and more.

Kristi Westbrock, CEO of telecommunications company CTC, on Tuesday, May 25, asked the county’s board of directors to apply for the grant with the intention of passing it on to the Baxter company. The proposed CTC project would cover the broadband facility in an area north and northwest of Crosby-Ironton, including the township of Cuyuna, Trommald and Wolford, as well as part of the township of Irondale to the south. . If awarded, the work would take place this summer. The towns of Crosby and Ironton would not be included, Westbrock said, as those constituents are considered to be served by broadband.

RELATED: Baxter City Council to Consider Broadband Issues in Next Workshop Session

Commissioners Paul Koering (left), Steve Barrows, Doug Houge and Rosemary Franzen participate in a discussion on Tuesday, May 25, before considering a motion to approve a grant application to support broadband infrastructure. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

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A total of 919 homes or businesses are located in the project area, and 492 of these are currently unserved, Westbrock said. It just meets the requirement of at least 51% of the low and moderate income population, sitting at 51.86%. Westbrock proposed that the county ask for $ 5 million in the grant application, the maximum amount allowed and an amount that would almost cover the expected cost.

Westbrock noted that broadband equipment is in high demand, but the CTC has overstocked its inventory for this summer in anticipation of potential grant allocations from relief funds.

“If we got any of these projects… we would be able to deploy immediately,” she said.

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It wouldn’t be the first time that Crow Wing County has partnered with the CTC on broadband projects. In 2020, the county set aside a portion of $ 1.5 million of its direct funding under the CARES Act to facilitate three separate broadband constructions. At the time, there seemed to be somewhat uncharted territory to allocate coronavirus relief funds to this infrastructure.

“Thank you very much for your foresight on the latest projects we have been working on through the CARES fund,” said Westbrock. “They turned out to be a wonderful success with our extremely high participation rates. … We have heard a lot about seniors able to make their appointments at home and children in school.

RELATED: CTC Receives DEED Award for Developing Broadband Internet

The three broadband expansion projects supported by county-allocated funds involved Camp Vanasek in Baxter and surrounding area, an area surrounding Lake Borden including the town halls of Bay Lake and Garrison, and a corridor along the road. County 13 in the Township of Lake Edward. The CTC also received funding to cover the cost of providing Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the community to help distance learning efforts and COVID-related broadband facilities completed earlier this spring.

“I think it’s a big project,” President Steve Barrows said on Tuesday of the CTC’s latest proposal. “… The last experience we had was great with your business.

RELATED: County Approves Framework for CARES Act Grant Program

Commissioner Paul Koering joked that Barrows stole his thunder with this comment.

“Thank you to you and all of your staff,” said Koering. “This last little round of work you did helped some of my constituents in southern Crow Wing County, and they appreciated it. I know they liked it because I heard from them.

CHELSEY PERKINS can be reached at 218-855-5874 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter at

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