Last night I attended the RS Fiber Joint Powers Meeting in Winthrop, MN. While the meeting had long been scheduled, the agenda took a new turn the morning prior when Sibley County dropped out of the region-wide plan to pursue fiber to the home/farm. (See Sibley County’s official letter of resignation.)
Mark Erickson was kind enough to share the video from the meeting with me. The video is OK; the audio is good. I’ve tried to line up the description of action with the video below – but the video was cropped automatically at 15 minutes by the recording device, not necessarily at breaks that made sense for content. (Handouts from the meeting are also available.) The big news – the formation of the Rural Telephone Coop is actually the last video.
The first half of the meeting focused on what RS Fiber needs to do to move forward. The expectation is that the business case may improve now that Sibley County dropped out of the project because Sibley County really represented a large number of the rural folks. Numbers that I heard noted that it cost about $2500 to get fiber to homes in town but $10,000 to homes (farms) in the rural areas. So losing those high cost subscribers will alter the business plan. So the engineers are working on a new business case based on the new specifications and each community will need to approve the new plan. [Note: I've had some difficulty with the audio on the first video; I've defaulted to my back up video, as you'll see taken from the back of the room.]
Another issue is that one community (Henderson) was waiting to hear what happened with Sibley County before they decided whether or not to move forward. One frustration was not having buy-in for that community so when the engineers are working on the new plan they may need to work on a plan with and a plan without Henderson. The compromise is that Henderson is now slated to be one of the first communities required to approve the final version of the plan.
Participating communities need local legal counsel to approve the business plan to move forward with bonds. This has been an issue but the Joint Power heard from Peter Cooper from McGrann Shea about they would like to pursue an approval for the Joint Power. To be clear, their approval is not assured but it sounds like they have a plan that they would like to try to flesh out with the communities. Each community will need to contract with McGrann Shea – the contract will not be with the Joint Powers Group. And with a contract comes a bill. The cost mentioned yesterday was $70,000. It sounds as if that may be reduced now that Sibley has dropped out.
The Joint Powers also heard from folks from the marketing committee. It was clearly a bittersweet announcement as the rural contingency of the marketing committee, which I think was a passionate and active part seemed to reluctantly resign. The group and the audience recognized the hard work of the committee. The folks in the rural areas have really brought a unique perspective and considerable energy to the project.
The big news is that Jeff Nielsen from United Farmers Union announced that they were working on a rural telephone cooperative. It was clearly new in the making but folks were enthusiastic. The new cooperative is eager to work with RS Fiber. It sounds as if they might want to own the network but would like to contract with RS Fiber to run the network. RS Fiber has been working with Doug Dawson and Hiawatha Broadband (HBC). Both left word that they would be willing to work with the new cooperative as well.
It’s exciting stuff. It’s fun to see what’s happening around the state – but I also like to share the complete notes and video especially for other communities that are thinking about broadband. Good to know what might come up, what questions to ask, what options are out there.
You can also read about the meeting in the New Ulm Journal.