Just off the main drag in the North Woods town of Ely, often described as the “end of the road,” a side door to a brick building offers locals and visitors a little haven of modern technology.
The new Ten Below Coworking space — a basement office with desk seats for a dozen people — boasts the city’s first fiber-optic broadband-connection available to the public.
The city and the nonprofit group Incredible Ely used a $15,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to create the open floor plan office as well as a couple of meeting rooms in the Klun Law Firm building. The money was used to furnish the space and should be enough to keep the lights on and the internet working for a year, officials said.
Organizers hope it will serve visitors as well as locals who need better internet access to conduct business.
“We have a lot of folks who come and enjoy our outdoor amenities and everything that there is to do here in Ely, but some folks still need to be tethered — even if it’s for a few hours at a time — back to their home offices,” said project coordinator Richard Stuart. “They may need reliable internet to do a quick video conference or whatever it may be. We’re here to fit that need.”
The space is modeled after those in larger cities. But, Stuart noted, the fees charged will be substantially less, ranging from $15 for a one-day pass to $175 for a monthly pass with access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Spaces at downtown Minneapolis office buildings, for instance, are listed at $300 and more per month.
Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said he’s enthused about the energetic people who are working to make the space viable, including advertising it so people are aware of it. It’s part of a larger plan to bring internet fiber to the rest of downtown and get high-speed internet out to the entire school district, in some places using wireless access points, Novak said.
“We’re tired of legislators at the state and federal level always talking about broadband and not providing a sufficient amount of support for it. ... It’s one of the most important things for economic development in greater Minnesota,” Novak said. “We’re going to have to take care of this ourselves. ... We’re going to start getting creative here. We will find a way.”
The space in Ely will serve as a pilot project for getting local people exposed to working with truly high speed internet, officials said.
“It’s an absolute game changer,” Stuart said.