Higher internet speeds and better connections in Pequot Lakes is one of many projects from the city's Thriving Communities Initiative program that is now gaining ground.

The Pequot Lakes Economic Development Commission is working to undertake a needs assessment of the downtown area and the business park. With the assistance of the Blandin Foundation, the city was granted 32 hours of technology consultation with Bill Coleman, of Community Technology Advisors in Mahtomedi.

TDS Telecom is helping with the project and has made a sizable investment, said EDC Chair Mark Jurchen, who said TDS's contribution helped "to take that main trunk line in the existing business park and then expand it so that businesses could hook up to it economically rather than making large investments."

Jurchen said businesses now have internet speeds up to 1GB per second for downloads and 100MB per second for uploads. This extension will also allow for fiber deployment in the 80-acre planned business park expansion just south of the existing location.

In addition, Cindy Tomlinson, associate manager of public relations for TDS, said the company has started construction on network upgrades funded through federal and state broadband funds. The project, which is a $6 million investment, will extend broadband to about 5,400 unserved and underserved locations throughout the areas TDS serves.

The first phase of the project is expected to be done by summer of 2018, and phase II should wrap up in fall of the same year. Residents can visit tdstelecom.com/networkupgrades.html to find out how the upgrades might impact them.

Jurchen said the EDC plans to coordinate efforts with both TDS and Spectrum - the two telecommunications providers in the Pequot Lakes area - as it assesses the current and future needs for the city. The EDC will also work with Consolidated Telephone Company in a regional approach to connectivity.

The goal of the project, Jurchen said, is to "be globally connected. That's going to be really important as we build a community. And it's going to be built probably a little differently than the old paradigms of brick and mortar."

The broadband upgrade project is also in line with Pequot Lakes' comprehensive plan, which expresses the importance of technological advancements and says: "The ability to attract and retain an educated workforce, the ability to collaborate with partners across the globe, and the options for researching new innovative approaches, are all enhanced by continued improvements in technology."

The Thriving Communities Initiative program is helping Pequot Lakes plan for its future with a new Highway 371 route. More than a year old, the program resulted in three task forces at work in the city - Economic Development, Quality of Life and Workforce.