MN Broadband Fund Award: A closer look around Stevens County (adjacent to Otter Tail County)

OBD fund graphicAlmost $20 million in state grants have gone to 17 communities in Minnesota to expand broadband and make the case to legislators (and the general public) that such investments are wise and have a valuable Return on Investment. I wanted to delve into each project a bit to help us follow the money as it gets deployed. (See other awardee posts.)

Otter Tail Telcom, Swan Lake West. Awarded $438,937 to expand existing infrastructure and bring fiber-to-the-home services to 110 unserved locations, including permanent residences with work-from-home employees near Swan Lake, on the outskirts of Fergus Falls, along the I-94 corridor. The total project costs are $877,874; the remaining $438,937 (50 percent local match) will be provided by Otter Tail Telcom.

Community and Economic Development Impact: Fergus Falls calls itself the “telework capital of Minnesota.” This project will continue the build-out in and around Fergus Falls to make that goal a reality for a growing number of people living, working, and operating or starting businesses in the Fergus Falls region.

Otter Tail actually received three awards; this one is Stevens county and two in Otter Tail, which I’ll highlight soon. As the description states, Fergus Falls and the surrounding area have been focusing on becoming the Telework Capital of Minnesota. They received national recognition for their efforts in 2013 when they were named a smart community. (The have a great telework handbook if you’re looking at telework in your community!) Extending the reach of FTTH home will help extend the telework opportunities to a wider audience.

Stevens County is well served. It would be nice to see a rural county get to 100 percent coverage. And it would be nice the average speeds increase in rural communities; Fiber to the Home will help. And the demand for better broadband ought to be there too. Stevens County was a MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) group in 2011-2012. One of the projects I remember from that initiative was better broadband and a kiosk in the American Legion. It served to provide a reason for younger veterans to go to the Legion and a place for older vets to learn about the Internet. A nice bond!

Just to help track progress, here are some recent stats on Stevens County:

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 6.5
  • Number of Households: 3,726
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 99.26%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 80.18%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:   $127,500
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:   $28,764
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:   15.4%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:   303
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:   4,152

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