County receives second grant to improve Internet accessibility

Paul Warpeha of the Princeton-Milaca area doesn’t like when a YouTube video he is watching is interrupted because the computer has to wait for the streaming connection to catch up.
“It gets kind of choppy,” Warpeha said.
One day he called his Internet service provider to discuss the signal he gets for his computer. Itwas suggested that he walk around his home to see where the signal is strongest. He did that, but the fact remains that the Warpeha home does not have high speed Internet.
At the same time, there may be many Mille Lacs County residents in worst shape than Warpeha as far as being able to connect to the Internet. That may be either because they don’t have a computer or they cannot receive a signal for Internet access.
County wants to help
It is a situation that Mille Lacs County Administrator Roxy Traxler and a county technology committee would like to improve county-wide.
Traxler heads the county’s effort to make Internet accessibility more widespread and to get faster Internet speeds in the county.
That costs money, and Mille Lacs County is now working on these technology improvements through its latest broadband grant from the Blandin Foundation.
Approximately two years ago the county received a Blandin broadband grant of about $40,000 and now it is receiving more grant money from Blandin.
The county used the first grant to install what are called Wi-Fi hot spots, one in each of four county government buildings in Milaca, plus one at the sheriff’s water search and rescue building on Mille Lacs Lake, and one at the Wahkon city hall. Traxler said that the county has also used the Blandin broadband grant money to distribute 54 computers to low-income families in the county.
The newest grant
On Feb. 4 the Mille Lacs County Board accepted the newest Blandin broadband grant money which consists of:
• $6,750 to distribute 100 computers to low-income families through a partnership with PCs for People. Each recipient will also receive three months of broadband Internet connectivity.
• $5,250 to add a layer to the county’s geographical information system mapping that will show where broadband service is strong or lacking in the county.
• $3,000 to develop interactive on-line town hall meetings for community and county boards.
• $11,000 to create a computer lab at the county courthouse and have it staffed and open to the public.
• $7,500 to add five public wi-fi hot spots within the county.
The goal is to make it possible for someone to be able to attend a town hall meeting on-line and do it interactively, Traxler said. For example, if there was a town hall meeting in Wahkon, someone would be able to participate in it online by using computers at the courthouse in Milaca, Traxler explained.
Also, by having a computer lab for the public in the courthouse, people could use them for tasks involving the Internet such as filling out job applications or checking e-mail, Traxler said.
Already, through the first Blandin grant, people can now take their laptop or digital device such as an iPad, and park next to the courthouse and obtain Internet access.
Traxler says the plan is to implement plans under the latest grant later this year.
The end goal is to have high-speed broadband across the county where feasible, said Traxler, who commented that she thinks the tech effort is going well.
Warpeha says he has a neighbor who has better Internet capability through satellite, but it’s “more pricey” than the Internet service Warpeha has. Warpeha notes that the Internet signal is less strong at certain times of the day, such as when students end their school day and go on the computer.
The best time to log onto the Internet at his home is in the middle of the night, Warpeha said.