MN Broadband Fund Award: A closer look around 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, Stuart Lake. Awarded $105,364 to expand existing infrastructure to bring fiber-to-the-home service to 47 unserved locations, including 46 homes and one business near Stuart Lake, just north of State Highway 210 and east of Fergus Falls (between Clitherall and Vining). Total project costs are $210,729; the remaining $105,365 (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 and/or starting businesses in the Fergus Falls region.

Otter Tail Telcom, 245th. Awarded $108,553 to serve the northeastern outskirts of Fergus Falls near 245th Street. The project will expand existing infrastructure to bring fiber-to-the-home service to 39 unserved locations, including permanent residences and work-from-home employees. The total project costs are $217,105; the remaining $108,553 (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 and/or starting businesses in the Fergus Falls region.

Otter Tail actually received three awards; these two in Otter Tail and one in Stevens county. 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. But Otter Tail is more than telework. In 2014, received almost $500,000 for Otter Tail County Public Health to implement e-health programs.

But even with all of the interest and good use of broadband, the county sits at only 64 percent coverage. I know that Otter Tail Telcom has been looking for support to extend their network. They sent in rural experiment ideas to the FCC in 2014. Back in 2013, CenturyLink opted to received Connect America Funds (CAF) to serve parts of Otter Tail County. It will be fun to see what funding does for the area

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

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 10.8
  • Number of Households: 24,055
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 64.33%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 64.33%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:   $159,700
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:   $26,400
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:   11.7%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:   1,685
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:   18,805

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