Sherburne County Broadband Feasibility Study

sherburne feasibilityThanks to Sherband – the broadband advocates in Sherburne County for sharing their broadband feasibility study. It’s interesting to see what options are available to Sherburne. Other counties might learn a lot too. Each county as its own strengths and weaknesses but there are some scenarios that may look familiar and it certainly gives an idea of what kind of information one gets from a feasibility study.

I thought I’d share the recommendations below but the entire study is available too…

Middle-Mile Fiber Network – The immediate goal of this study has been to analyze the construction of a county-wide high-capacity, middle-mile fiber network. This network is viewed as a starting point to bringing county-wide ubiquitous broadband to Sherburne county and would have multiple purposes. First, this network would be utilized to provide broadband services to the county. It could also be used to provide broadband services to other governmental units such as cities and townships, provide backhaul capacity to public safety wireless systems, connect other anchor facilities such as hospitals, schools and libraries, and provide services to the private sector. Finally, this network could be utilized to provide transport for future FTTH network expansion in the county.

It is proposed that the county partner with a private communications company to implement the fiber network. A private partner would provide operation, administration and maintenance services. The partner will also likely be responsible for construction of the fiber network.

The construction of the fiber network is estimated to cost $6.93 million to construct. Unfortunately, the grant funding that was available a few years ago through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is no longer available. This source of grant funding played a large part in the construction of the Anoka and Carver county networks. Without this funding, Sherburne county will need to tap into other sources of funding. The likely sources for additional funding are the entities who would utilize the network. Cities within the county could help fund the project by the sale of bonds. There may also be future sources of grant funding such as an expanded border-to-border grant program. The partner provider may also provide funding for some of the project.

Broadband-to-the-Home – The second aspect of this study has been to identify means of providing broadband services to all of the residents of Sherburne county. The options analyzed in this study were fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) and fixed wireless. From a technology stand point, FTTH is the clear winner. The capacity of a correctly designed all-fiber network is virtually unlimited. Any current constraints on capacity are due to electronics either in the home or in the wire center which can be replaced fairly easily without any upgrades to fiber optic cable in the field. However, this future ready network comes with a fairly high price tag to construct. The capital requirement estimate for a county-wide FTTH network tops $90 million. Even with $16 million in grant funding the financed price tag will still be in excess of $74 million.

Constructing a “rural-only” network assuming that, for the most part, the urban areas have adequate broadband would reduce the capital requirement to $60.2 million but will reduce the number of homes passed from almost 31,000 to just over 14,000. This reduction in homes passed greatly reduces the income from potential subscribers. The cross-over point where constructing a rural network with an assumed take rate of 50% becomes more feasible than a county-wide network occurs when the urban take rate drops below 32.75%. This scenario may be a likely case and a detailed market survey of urban subscribers would help determine the likely urban and rural take rates.

Finally, a fixed wireless option was estimated. This county-wide network has a capital requirement of $19.2 million. This network would be more feasible to construct than an FTTH network. Due to topography, trees and interference, a wireless network may not be able to reach all residents without taking extra measures to create a line-of-sight from the tower to the home or mitigating the source of interference. Also, a wireless network doesn’t have the capacity and isn’t as future ready as an FTTH network. The advantages of a wireless broadband network are that it can be constructed without having to make a large investment in placing fiber-optic cables passed all homes. Also, it is relatively easy to re-purpose customer equipment as needed. If one subscriber cancels service, the electronic equipment can be utilized elsewhere. Finally, broadband services can be turned up to any home without the need to construct physical network elements.

A wireless broadband network would complement the construction of a FTTH network as it would accelerate the ability to turn up new customers. As areas of the county increase in penetration of broadband services, FTTH facilities may become economic to construct to that area. At that time the wireless equipment could then be re-used in other areas of the county.

In order to better understand which direction the county should pursue. It would be advisable for the county to have a detailed market survey performed to gain a better understanding of the view of the residents based on statistical techniques that will help to quantify the desire/need of broadband services as well as the price points at which residents are comfortable paying for broadband services.

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