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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Midco joins broadband quest in the Ely area

Competition to offer high-speed service is ramping up as various projects develop

Keith Vandervort
Posted 4/7/21

ELY – As a variety of high-speed fiber projects get off the ground here, a long-time cable provider recently announced they want to join the party as competition increases. Existing cable and …

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Midco joins broadband quest in the Ely area

Competition to offer high-speed service is ramping up as various projects develop


ELY – As a variety of high-speed fiber projects get off the ground here, a long-time cable provider recently announced they want to join the party as competition increases.
Existing cable and internet customers who are frustrated with all-too-common service disruptions recently learned that Midco activated more than 200 additional miles of fiber to create a northern Minnesota fiber ring that adds diverse network paths for the Ely area.
The expansion and investment by the cable provider is an effort to reduce or eliminate service disruptions caused by fiber cuts and other sources of internet and business connections. Their recent investment announcement also appears to give the cable provider a bigger piece of the broadband pie in the immediate Ely area.
“You all saw Midco’s announcement last week,” said Ely Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski. “Just so everyone knows, with our fiber loop downtown, we have a 10-year exclusive agreement with CTC and their sizable investment.”
CTC is in the midst of installing a state-of-the-art fiber-optic network in the city’s downtown corridor and is actively selling business services. In their first phase, CTC offers broadband technology to homes and businesses along Sheridan Street, and looks to offer business and residents internet, phone, and TV services along with business phone systems and IT services.
“We are scheduling a meeting with Midco at some point,” Langowski said. “We want to discuss where our project is and where their project is. I was a little concerned when I talked with (Midco’s) government affairs representative, who wasn’t aware of what we are doing or what our project is. I told him he must have been living under a rock. If he had read our local newspapers, he would have seen that we have been working on this for the last decade-plus.”
The first phase of the city of Ely’s CTC Broadband project is limited to the downtown area. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m not excited about (Midco’s) investment,” Langowski said. “I just want to make sure they don’t come in and overlay what we just did and cut us out of the market.”
Midco also announced that crews will begin installing FTTP (Fiber to the Premises) to homes and businesses in Ely and Winton in early 2022 capable of up to five Gbps. Connections can be upgraded to 10 Gbps, according to the cable provider.
The neighboring communities of Tower, Soudan and Babbitt will see similar construction activity with full FTTP network upgrades in 2023, company officials said.
“This expansion has been a high priority for us and our customers in Northern Minnesota who have been awaiting greater capacity, faster speeds and enhanced reliability,” said Midco President and CEO Pat McAdaragh. “With a capital investment of $3.75 million, this expansion will allow (expansion) for all of Midco’s services and products.”
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak welcomed the news.
“Improving our citizens’ access to high-speed, reliable internet has been an overarching priority of the city of Ely,” he said. “The speeds, redundancy and reliability Midco will bring to our community, and surrounding communities, is a game-changer for our residents, students and businesses. I am grateful for the leadership shown by our community and citizens, and for Midco for making this happen.”
A wireless broadband project is also moving forward in the Town of Morse around the Ely area. Isaac Olson of Treehouse Broadband uses directional antennas operating on the radio frequency spectrum to provide high bandwidth internet service. With direct line of sight to their towers and repeater locations, they service customers in the Ely area. Unlike traditional satellite service, according to Olson, rain, snow and other weather has no impact on the frequencies and short-range transmissions he uses to deploy broadband.
Olson said last summer he had as many as 50 customers, not including many resorts which have multiple cabins, so that number could be doubled.
“Our upstream connection is through a regional fiber provider running over the NESC fiber network with redundant fiber connections out of Ely – one down Highway 1 to Two Harbors and the other down Highway 169 to Virginia,” he said.
In addition to the network redundancy and FTTP upgrades in the Ely area, the northern Minnesota communities of International Falls, Ranier and Littlefork will see faster data speeds from Midco in the coming year.
“All three communities will have access to Midco Gig in 2021. Midco Gig is 35 times faster than the average high-speed internet,” McAdaragh said.
A change is on the horizon for local calling for all Midco telephone customers. Starting Jan. 1, 2022, local calls will be required to include area codes. This change will affect Midco phone customers (and anyone else making local calls) in the 605, 218, 620 and 785 areas.
Minnesota State Senator Tom Bakk weighed in on the “critically-needed” broadband expansion and investment for his constituents. “While the pandemic continues to impact learning, economic growth, medical and family needs, investments in robust infrastructure systems such as this are crucial in addressing the connectivity gaps that remain across our state,” he said.
Minnesota State Representative Rob Ecklund added, “COVID-19 has accelerated our reliance on high-speed internet access, and while we’ve made progress in recent years toward connecting all Minnesotans, the needs in many rural areas have remained unmet. I am so pleased Midco understands this need and how increasingly important broadband is for conducting business, educating our students, providing medical services, and participating in daily life. Not only will these communities be able to fully participate in digital life, they will be a leader in a broadband accessibility throughout the state.”
Founded in 1931, Midco serves 440,000 homes and business in 400 communities in Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
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The Ely Economic Development Authority is in the midst of reviewing priorities from 2020 and looking ahead to 2021 and beyond. Broadband remains a top priority for the city.
The city’s economic advisor, John Fedo, told EEDA commissioners last week that, despite initial assistance from the Blandin Foudation, “We took our own advice and literally put this on the shoulders of Ely in providing meaningful business assistance here.”
EEDA commissioners will continue their priority planning session later in April.


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