Pope County gets results of broadband feasibility study including fiber wireless hybrid option

Pope County Tribune reports…

Pope County continues to work toward increasing broadband access and Internet speed for all residents and businesses in the county.

The county recently utilized grant money to fund a feasibility study on broadband to improve Internet access and speed in underserved or unserved areas of Pope County.

Pope County Commissioners, along with about 50 residents of the county, heard the results of that study last Tuesday and learned about the next steps needed to improve broadband throughout the county.

The study area excluded most of the western part of the county, including Starbuck, because areas served by Federated Telephone Cooperative already have fiber, and the area served by Runestone Telephone Company are expected to get fiber in the near future.  The city of Starbuck is currently served by Mediacom and that area has speeds greater than 100 megabytes per second (MBps).  The goal is to bring all areas in the county to Internet speeds of at least 10-25 MBps, according to Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, the firm that did the study along with Finley Engineering.  The study concentrated on Glenwood, Sedan, Villard and all other rural parts of the county, it was stated at the meeting.

They talked about a network plan…

CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering found in the study that bringing all-fiber to the 4,626 households in the underserved area of the county is expensive.  That’s why they designed a scenerio that includes a fiber ring around the county and utilizes wireless technology to serve portions of the county within that ring.  On that scenario, there would be about 1,358 households on fiber and 3,226 served through the wireless technology.  “This would be far and away better than what is out there now, but the goal is to bring fiber to each household,” Dawson explained.  He also said that the wireless technology has improved drastically over the past few years and is a viable system.

So, the plan would be to construct a 67.6-mile long fiber ring to cover the service area (the entire county).  That would mean there would be 765 miles of roads that would need fiber and the engineers stated that it would be more cost effective to bury that whole fiber network, so it would not be placed on rural poles.

Adding the wireless scenario would mean utilizing new and exiting towers throughout the county that would be served by fiber.  The wireless system being considered would delver speeds of at least 25 mbps.  “That’s the minimum and the goal would be to upgrade the white space spectrum to increase bandwidth,” he explained.

And costs…

Installing fiber everywhere in the county would cost about $29.3 million, according to the study.  If the combination of wireless and fiber were used, the cost would drop to about $9 million.  And in another scenario, the study excluded the city of Glenwood and used a wireless and fiber combination for the rest of the county and that was estimated to cost about $6.5 million.

For customers on the fiber network, that would provide fast Internet, cable TV and telephone.  For wireless customers, it would provide Internet and telephone service only.

It was stated at the meeting that there is “no reasonable scenerio to immediately finance fiber to the entire county.  That would take at least a 75 percent state or federal grant to make it possible.  Today, most of the state grants funded to broadband expansion are about 50 percent grant.

But, the study found, it is financial viable for a local telephone company to do the combination of wireless and fiber, especially with some state grant money.    According to the study, it would take a 43 percent penetration for the company that would provide the service to break even.  A 60 percent penetration would return about $12.1 million over 25 years, and a 70 percent penetration would return about $17.8 million over the same period.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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