Yellow Medicine County Broadband Feasibility Study: wireless is a temporary solution, grants needed for fiber builds

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Yellow Medicine 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 Yellow Medicine 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 will eventually harm 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 fiber construction over the next few years. We considered three different study areas looking at different parts of the county. We then looked at two different business plan scenarios for getting broadband to everyone: building fiber everywhere and building a hybrid network that is a mix of fiber and fixed wireless. Finley Engineering developed estimates of the cost of deploying each network option and CCG used these costs in the financial business plans to see if there is an economically viable model for providing broadband in the rural areas.

The primary purpose of the study was to determine the breakeven penetration level for each scenario. This represents the number of customers necessary for the scenario to always remain cash positive throughout the life of the financing. This analysis told us the following:

  • It does not look to be economically feasible to immediately build fiber everywhere without significant grant funding. This is not a surprising finding and is directly the result of the high cost of building fiber to farms.
  • The scenarios that mix fiber and wireless technology look feasible. The scenarios can work even without grant funding, but some level of grant funding make the scenarios safer for an investor.

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 homes with no broadband. Some customers will be able to get speeds faster than that on the wireless network.

However, 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 point in the future the wireless network will become obsolete in the same manner that happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

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 hopefully be ready for future state grant funds.

We note that as this report was being written that the county announced a tentative agreement with Farmers Mutual Cooperative to bring fiber to a significant portion of the county. The county has agreed to provide $4 million in funding subject to the Cooperative being able to find grants and other funding needed to build the project. If completed this project would cover a little less than half of the parts of the county that don’t have broadband today.

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