With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Lyon County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing better broadband to all corners of the county.
Here’s the executive summary of the Lyon County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…
Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution for those parts of the county without broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have good broadband, including fiber, while other parts of the county have little or no broadband. This disparity in broadband coverage is already harming those portions of the county without broadband and you can expect those areas to suffer lower housing prices and become places where families and business don’t want to be located.
Our study area looked at the feasibility of bringing broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fast broadband to homes and businesses over the next few years. The areas served today by Woodstock Communications already have fiber. Minnesota Valley Telephone plans to build fiber in their exchange. Marshall and Tracy are served by two cable companies with fast broadband. Finally, Midcontinent Communications got a grant this year to improve broadband speeds in Taunton, Minnesota and Ghent. That leaves a study consisting of the rural areas served today by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. We also looked at scenarios that build fiber to Balaton and Lynd, even though Woodstock Communications has requested grant funding to build fiber to those towns.
The studies looked at two scenarios—building fiber to the study area and building a hybrid combination of wireless technology and fiber. The wireless network designed by Finley is intended to supply at least 25 Mbps download to rural homes in the county, which is a significant improvement for those without good broadband today. Some customers will be able to get even faster speeds on the wireless network.
However, we know the county’s goal is to eventually have fiber everywhere and so implementing a wireless network would not be a permanent solution. All of the broadband trends in the country show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some time in the future a wireless network would become obsolete in the same manner that has happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.
We view the hybrid fiber and wireless solution and a great first step towards improving broadband. This option would bring fiber immediately to about a third of the rural homes in the county, including the towns of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret, and Florence. And the fiber constructed for this scenario is a first step in getting fiber closer to everybody in the county. We think a reasonable business plan is to start with the hybrid option and extend fiber to everybody over time.
Our analysis shows that it is not economically feasible to build fiber everywhere in the rural parts of the county using the existing Border-to-Border grant program—the 50% grant matching in that program is not enough to create a sustainable network. However, the hybrid fiber and wireless solutions all look to be economically viable.
The report discusses the next steps the county needs to take after digesting the results of this study. These include such things as looking for a partner to bring broadband to those areas without it today. The goal would be to have a partner by next year to be ready for future state grant funds.