Duluth leaders propose plan to expand broadband access

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 9:08 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) - Broadband access in Duluth has been an ongoing headache for many residents and business owners.

Now, city leaders are working on a plan to address the problem.

Owner of Frost River, Christian Benson, said online sales make up a large portion of his profits.

“The online portion, the internet, is why we can run this little business in Lincoln Park,” said Benson.

Having access to reliable internet is essential for business, but unfortunately there aren’t many options in Duluth.

“We can run our credits cards and we do all the stuff we need to, but we certainly are not at the level that newer, technology-driven businesses are looking for,” Benson said.

Economic Developer Emily Nygren says city leaders have heard similar sentiments from residents through surveys.

“Around 70% say that their internet is unaffordable,” said Nygren.

Which is why her team has proposed the “Digital Access Master Plan,” hoping to provide cheaper and better options for internet.

“The City of Duluth is looking and proposing to City Council to go and seek some border to border grant funding to do a pilot project of fiber internet access here in Lincoln Park,” Nygren said.

Fiber internet access is faster than what is currently offered in Duluth -- cable and satellite.

“Fiber is the difference between using a fire hose to get your internet access versus somebody’s garden hose,” said Nygren.

The plan doesn’t increase taxes.

Funding would come from grants, the community investment trust fund and a few other sources.

EcoLibrium3 CEO and local organizer Jodi Slick said she’s hopeful the plan will help the community grow.

“Having broadband is what helps you get your economic opportunities,” Slick said. “It works on your education. It helps you be connected to other people, and this is a neighborhood that needs that.”

After Lincoln Park, leaders hope to expand internet access citywide.

If City Council approves, construction could start by next year.

“We have to be investing at the human scale,” said Slick. “And one way to invest when we’re thinking about infrastructure dollars is to help this community be connected.”

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