PARK RIVER, N.D. – Polar Communications this spring will begin the second phase of a project to bring high-speed broadband internet to customers in northeast North Dakota who previously had insufficient access.

The Park River-based company is using a $21.2 million loan and grant combination from the United States Agriculture Department's ReConnect program to provide broadband technology to rural households and businesses in North Dakota. The funding was announced in January 2020 during the first round of the USDA's ReConnect pilot program.

Also during that round, Daktel Communications, of Jamestown, was awarded a $1.8 million grant to provide broadband service to about 400 households and three educational facilities located in an area of 354 square miles.

The ReConnect pilot program offers federal financing and funding to expedite deployment of broadband in rural areas where internet service is insufficient. The legal definition of insufficient access is 10 megabits per second downstream and 1 megabit per second upstream, according to USDA.

Polar Communications customers will be able to choose packages that provide broadband speed from 50 megabit symmetrical up to one gigabit, said Karl Blake, Polar Communications CEO. If customers want high broadband speed, the company has the capability to provide up to 10 gigabits, he said. The high-speed broadband will give customers high-speed access to a variety of services, including telemedicine, e-commerce and video streaming.

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In 2020 the Park River-based company laid cable in Walsh County and part of western Grand Forks County for 859 customers. Broadband service to 134 of those customers is operational and the remainder will be connected this spring, Blake said.

When the ground thaws, Polar Communications will lay another 500 miles of fiber optic cable in eastern Grand Forks County. The company hopes to have the cable in place by freeze-up.

The broadband Polar Communications is providing through the ReConnect program is expected to reach more than 2,000 households, six educational centers, a health care center and one critical community in Grand Forks and Walsh counties.

The coronavirus pandemic, which has resulted in people working from their homes and students attending school virtually, has highlighted the importance of high-speed broadband internet, Blake said.

“It’s a great thing for Polar, but it’s an even greater thing for customers to be able to have that service,” he said.

In December 2019 former USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the agency would make available an additional $550 million in ReConnect funding for grants, up to $200 million for 50/50 loan grant combinations and up to $200 million for low-interest loans during the second round of the ReConnect program.

The Department of Agriculture announced in October 2020 that Reservation Telephone Cooperative was awarded a $6.9 million ReConnect grant to construct a fiber optic network. The network will provide access for people, businesses, a school and a fire station to broadband internet in McKenzie County in North Dakota and Dawson, Richland and Wibaux counties in Montana.