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Crossing State Lines for Broadband Expansion

If not for the narrow Montreal River separating them, Iron County, WI and Gogebic County, MI would be one scenic and interconnected community in the northernmost region of the U.S. The two towns on the banks of the Montreal – Ironwood, MI and Hurley, WI – don’t let state lines interrupt their community cohesion. The two towns have participated in various partnerships for decades, first as iron mining and lumber towns. These areas continue their partnerships today to advance growing economies as tourist hotspots and vacation destinations, an industry where broadband expansion has become a key issue.

“It’s really neat to see what can happen when you look at the state line and it’s not a barrier, but how can we can use this to our advantage and bring more people to the table,” said James Lorenson, President of the Gogebic Community College in Ironwood, MI. Representatives from local government, chamber of commerce, educational institutions, and other organizations on both sides of the border have come together in an effort to expand broadband infrastructure and increase broadband awareness. Both counties are utilizing resources locally and from their state to fulfill similar goals and outcomes.

Representatives on both sides began examining availability in the area through county-wide surveys. Iron County partnered with broadband expansion group Link Wisconsin while Gogebic County partnered with Connect Michigan. With popular tourist destinations in both areas, the lakes region in Iron County and numerous ski resorts in Gogebic County, both counties sought to increase visitors to their area and provide a method of telecommuting for those who wished to remain in the area.

“In the lakes area, we have people coming in and spending a week or two on their summer vacations. Our survey identified that people would spend more time and money in the lakes area if broadband were available to them,” said Will Andresen, Iron County Community Resource Development Educator through the University of Wisconsin Extension office.

Though they work toward similar goals using similar plans, differences between the counties are still evident. “When it comes down to the grant opportunities and regulatory requirements, there is quite a difference,” said Andresen. Solidarity between the two counties and powerful motivation to improve broadband in both areas will allow the communities to bridge the gaps and move forward together.

“I see the challenges between the two states as an opportunity to highlight to state and federal policymakers what can be accomplished and encourage interstate pilot programs,” said Lorenson. “This is an example of what can happen when people work together collaboratively and when people work across state lines.”
To learn more about broadband initiatives in Michigan and Wisconsin and to see how your state is getting connected, visit the Connected Community Engagement Program website.