Posted at: 04/10/2013 7:04 PM
Updated at: 04/10/2013 10:19 PM
By: Travis Dill
Lake County is building a broadband network despite federal lawmakers asking the USDA why the project got $66 million in taxpayer money.
The concerns about the funding are complicated. The Department of Agriculture awarded the federal money to Lake County over two years ago. A requirement for that funding was to bring broadband access to rural areas lacking the high-speed connection.
However, U.S. Representatives questioned if the Lake County project met the funding requirements last month. The Committee on Energy and Commerce asked the USDA if the actually expands access or is just overbuilding.
Lake County officials said the questions floating on the federal level are not slowing down construction. Crews were connecting fiber optic cable to homes in Silver Bay on Wednesday.
The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) is the branch of the USDA that approves money spent on the project. County Administrator Matt Huddleston said there is no indication the money will stop flowing.
“In the meantime we're focused on building the network and RUS is continually seeing our contracts move to them, and they're approving them and providing us the funds at this time to continue building it,” Huddleston said.
He said $20 million is tied up in contracts, and construction will move forward.
Connections to homes and businesses in Two Harbors and Silver Bay should be finished by July according to officials. Then a connection to Duluth will be built to connect the entire network to the rest of the world. Officials said the network will reach up to Ely by the end of 2015.
Project Manager Jeff Roiland said the network will improve service to an area lacking a high-speed connection. He also said the new technology could draw high-tech business and manufacturing jobs to Lake County.
“I don't think the infrastructure will ever go away. It's here to stay, and it'll full-proof and future-proof the area,” Roiland said.
Federal lawmakers are asking about the money funneling into the project, but for now the construction continues as scheduled.
A USDA spokesperson told Eyewitness news the department has responded to the House committee's questions, however, that spokesperson would not discuss why the USDA approved funding for the Lake County project.