Fillmore County talks broadband, finances, grants and partners

Yesterday I joined 30-40 people at a public meeting in Preston MN to talk about broadband. Presenting were folks from CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates), AcenTek (local fiber provider) and the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

fillmoreThey talked about the new broadband maps, which show that 41 percent of Fillmore County is unserved – based on the new definition of broadband at 25 Mbps up and 3 Mbps up. They talked about the state broadband grants. The County has approved $150,000 as match for proposed applications in the area. They talked about AcenTek’s plan to extend fiber through the area. They have plans but it’s expensive and access to state funding would accelerate the process.

They talked about the role of government and potential for partnerships. They talked about the role of wireless as a temporary solution that extends broadband to far reaches of a network and provides a revenue stream that supports reinvestment. They talked about the proposed growth coming from Rochester and the potential to attract residents and businesses with better broadband.

Attendees were dismayed that there was only $35 million in State funding available for broadband. Presenters explained that $35 million was more than many states, more than last year and hopefully a renewable fund.

I took full notes and videos and the hosts were kind enough to share their slides.

Sam Smith from CEDA –

$150,000 Fillmore County approved match to apply for state grant funding.

Ryan Yetzer (now at CEDA, formerly at the Office of Broadband Development)

41% of Fillmore County is unserved – they are meeting now to talk about broadband grants

How can you plan to apply for a broadband grant?

  • Get a committee/task force together
  • Make a plan
  • Work with providers
  • Make dig once policies
  • Build demand
  • Review NTIA roadmap

Q:How much risk is there if I provider does go into the area?

A provide looks at take rate and ROI – with a 50 percent match from the state it is quicker to see a ROI.

Todd Roesler, AcenTek (Ace Communications)

In 2003 we had 1000 customers – Now we have 18,000 customers (with 17,000 access lines)

We are a fiber company based in Houston – we have employees who live in the area.

Our end game is long term viability – that means FTTH.

Q Why do you leave places unserved?
We invest but we only invest so much at a time. Our long term intent is to fill in our unserved places. We chose La Crescent first (last year) and are now looking at serving their outskirts. It cost about $5000 per passing for that upgrade.

Q Why?
Population density and competition.

If we don’t get the grants, we’ll still build out but not as quickly.

Q Do you have to bury fiber?
You could go wireless but that’s not as fast. If we can’t make a business case to do fiber in an area we would do wireless but fiber is more secure, more control.

Q: If you are only going to serve certain portions of the county – why are the rest of us here?
This will expedite the process. It will help us find more creative

Chris Mitchell – Institute for Local Self Reliance

We want internet access to be available like other utilities. I don’t turn off the toaster to turn on a light. Broadband should be the same.

Competition is helpful because it encourages businesses to offer service that helps them compete. Only 25% of the US has a choice of broadband providers

Fillmore is behind some of your neighbors but there’s still time and you’re not alone.

  • Some communities have invested directly –
  • Sometimes communities work with existing providers

It’s helpful to work with your local provider regardless of your situation.

Windom is not a failure. It has meant jobs. Local businesses appreciate the increase in speed.

Return on Investment with fiber is increased property value, better education, economic development. Unfortunately that kind of ROI doesn’t help many incumbent providers. They need to make decisions that work for their shareholders.

RS Fiber has been an approach that is working. They have a way where the public partner bears most of the risk but least of the expense.

They started with wireless options – getting customers and building revenues.

They work with HBC.

Federal Reserve just a report on how banks can invest in digital economy to meet their CRA obligations

In 1906 – private providers complained about municipal efforts for municipal electronic networks.

Q: Where does the fiber from La Crescent come from?
We have a umber of fiber rings that reach to different areas – for redundancy and capacity. We have about 900 miles of fiber. We network with other providers.

Q: What’s the range on wireless?
Depends on equipment and line of sight.
Wireless is getting better – but generally the topography will hurt in this area.

Wireless is fed by a fiber optic line. It’s an interim solution.
Wireless loses capacity with distance.
Wireless has data caps.

Q: We can ask our state legislators to invest more in broadband. What can we do locally?
Talk to township officers. Let local leaders know broadband is important. Keep them in the loop. Generally, Counties take the lead but townships can support and at some point the township may look at a small investment.

Counties can try to smooth the path with policies – like Dig Once.

The grant application will be better if we have community support. So we are asking local businesses and residents to sign a petition.

Talk to your electric coop to see if they might be interested in pursuing broadband.

Is there federal funding?
There is some federal funding. USDA funding is difficult for someone who doesn’t already have a relationship with them.

There is CAF funding but it only requires 10/1 access.

Communities that look for federal funding tend to lose interest. Communities that look at how to finance it locally seem to move forward

AcentTek is working with local school to help them make the most of technology and broadband. We want it to be a show piece. It’s good advertising for the community and the local provider. Students are getting ipads in the schools that will be a drain on the broadband infrastructure.

Federal Government will give support to local broadband providers. Earlier they funded projects that deployed 10/1 projects. Now they have changed the definition of broadband to 25/3 but they aren’t funding that upgrade.

There are 35 of us here. Individually we can’t do much. But if we each go out and tell people it’s important to us then they will understand.

Broadband means jobs – we’ve seen in our family with family members in Alaska, Mexico and other part of the world.

HBC has found that where they have deployed broadband – population decline has reversed.

If we could get fiber across this area – we might be able to take advantage of the expected job increase coming out of Rochester and the Mayo Clinic.

Where will new Mayo Clinic staff move in SE Minnesota? They might choose Preston if they can get fiber.

2 thoughts on “Fillmore County talks broadband, finances, grants and partners

  1. Any news on higher internet for preston area? I live outside of preston and have centurylink. They said will never see faster speed in my lifetime. We currently barely get 3. I need faster speed as I am a teleworker for mayo clinic.

  2. Wendy,
    I’m afraid I don’t have any more news than what I posted here:
    Your home may be in line for CAF 2 funded upgrade but at the post says – that only requires an upgrade to 10/1 Mbps (down/up).
    You might consider contacting the CEDA – the folks who hosted the meeting last August – they are closer to the front lines and may have more info. Please let me know if you learn more!

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