The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing more than $2.8 million to construct broadband infrastructure in Morton County.
Clare Carlson, USDA Rural Development state director, said the project fills a gap in broadband service for 126 households south of Mandan.
“Some of their neighbors had the service but they didn’t,” Carlson said.
BEK Communications Cooperative, with headquarters in Kidder County, is providing $549,155 in matching funds to complete the project.
BEK CEO Derrick Bulawa said this project is part of the cooperative’s efforts over the past nine years to expand its network in rural areas around Bismarck-Mandan.
Bulawa said the cooperative has sought to reach those rural customers without access to high-quality broadband service, and that has been particularly hard in rural Morton County.
The households that will benefit from this expansion are in one of the poorest served areas of the state, Bulawa said.
“Many of them right now have almost nothing,” Bulawa said.
Broadband speeds BEK is able offer on its new fiber include 250 megabits per second, 500 megabits per second and 1 gigabit, which is competitive with Midco’s speeds in Bismarck.
Once this project is complete, only the area directly west of Mandan will be in need of fiber service on the BEK network.
BEK has allocated funds to construct a community center, complete with computer terminals and free wireless internet, available to all community members. It will be located at Graner Park in the Sugarloaf Bottoms Recreation Area. BEK anticipates completion of the building by the end of 2019.
The broadband expansion will allow residents and businesses easier access to economic, health care, educational and quality-of-life opportunities, Carlson said.
“In today’s world, broadband is as important as water and sewer and electricity,” Carlson said. “Really, it allows you have to have access to the rest of the world on an equal footing.”
USDA has had good partnerships with telecommunications cooperatives to provide rural broadband service, Carlson said.
“They’ve really stepped up to the plate as far as providing fiber to every home, school and business in the state,” he said.