MN Broadband Fund Award: A closer look around Renville and Sibley Counties

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.)

R-S Fiber Cooperative, FTTH Project. Awarded $1 million to bring fiber-to-the –home (FTTH) service to 62 unserved and 536 underserved locations in Sibley and Renville counties. Total project costs are $3.32 million; the remaining $2.32 million (70 percent local match) will be provided by a line of credit that R-S Fiber Telcom has committed and partner equity. This project is part of a larger cooperative project estimated at $38.46 million that will upgrade broadband services to several thousand locations in the region. Hiawatha Broadband Communications will provide operational capacity.

Community and Economic Development Impact: In 2013, Sibley County was added to the Metropolitan Statistical Area of the Twin Cities. Twin Cities metro regional economic development strategy indicates that access to high-speed fiber networks is a critical component that companies consider when deciding whether to relocate to an area.

The project’s affiliation with US Ignite will spur the development of incubator technology start-up businesses, bringing gigabit applications to life. US Ignite is a national consortium of 26 technology companies started through collaboration between the White House Office of Technology and the National Science Foundation. Because Hiawatha Broadband Communications is one of US Ignite’s initial 26 technology partners, the R-S Fiber project is eligible to be a US Ignite community.

When the network is operational, US Ignite will help member communities develop incubator technology start-up businesses whose mission will be to develop applications specifically for the R-S Fiber Cooperative network in the areas of education, health care, senior citizens and agricultural production. In addition, the project will have access to applications already developed through US Ignite partnerships.

I have followed the effort to get better broadband in Sibley and Renville counties for a few years. They are resilient and have persevered to get broadband through a lot of ups and downs. They have been working to get fiber to the area and have been steadfast in wanting to serve the entire area (meaning fiber to the farm in many instances) despite the fact that reaching everyone will cost more. They have been working with different counties and city government and have some played through sticky wicket situations where communities have opted in and out of the project.

The project had shifted directions and is now moving forward as a Cooperative. A lot of communities in the US are watching closely to see how this works. It’s an innovative (yet old school) way to services to a rural community. The partnerships with US Ignite will help fuel broadband adoption.

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

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 6.6
  • Number of Households: 6,564
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 58.39%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 58.39%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:  $97,600
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:  $26,062
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:  11.6%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:  466
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:  4,385

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

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 10
  • Number of Households: 6,034
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 70.29%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 89.39%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:  $136,900
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:  $25,7789
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:  11.8%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:  360
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:  1,072

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