Nobles County: an inside look at a broadband feasibility study

Telecompetitor recently posted a profile of Nobles County and their journey toward better broadband…

To fix this situation, Nobles County set out on a public-private partnership journey, that would eventually involve the state of Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation, Finley Engineering, and Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company. Finley Engineering was honored to be selected by Nobles County to support this effort and help bring quality broadband to their community. The end result aims to eventually provide a state-of-the-art fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) network that will bring ultrabroadband service to the citizens, farms, and businesses that dot Nobles County. This Minnesota community is well on their way in achieving this vision.

So they set out to learn more with a feasibility study…

The Blandin Foundation, a Minnesota-based private foundation, advocates for strong rural communities and provides funding to help meet that mission. Nobles County applied for and won grant funding from Blandin to perform a rural broadband feasibility study for their community. The Blandin Foundation provided one-half of the cost of the feasibility study, with Nobles County providing the rest in matching funds. Nobles County turned to Finley Engineering to begin that process and with their partners, Finley performed a study to determine how to bring broadband to this community in need. The result of that study identified a feasible plan to build a fiber ring throughout the county and begin bringing broadband to unserved and underserved communities through a hybrid FTTP and fixed wireless access network. Results of this study were presented to potential providers, including Lismore Cooperative Telephone, who partnered with Nobles County to fund, construct, and operate the hybrid fiber and fixed wireless network. Besides performing the feasibility study, Finley Engineering was selected to complete a State of MN broadband grant application, and engineer and oversee construction of the network.

That helped to set them up for a broadband grant…

The state provided $2.9 million in matching grant funding to contribute to the construction of the fiber portions of the network. Nobles County contributed a $1 million grant and a $2.5 million loan to the cause and Lismore committed to also invest in the construction of the network. The total budget for the project was about $6.5 million. The goal includes building the fiber ring and laterals to tower sites, providing a hybrid fiber and fixed wireless access initially, but eventually providing FTTP service, funded in part from the fixed wireless service revenues.

What did they learn?

All stakeholders in the project report are pleased with the progress so far. There are some key lessons learned from this evolving project. They include:

  • Initial feasibility studies are crucial, and Nobles County cited working with professional fi rms like Finley Engineering and their partners as an important critical step.
  • There are many partners and stakeholders involved in a project like this and open and transparent communication throughout all steps is vital to success noted Nobles County officials.
  • Involving the community early on played an important role in success factors. Nobles County enlisted local community members to participate in the early studies, surveying community members about the need for broadband.
  • Fixed wireless access technology has vastly improved and it is now a very viable technology to bring quality broadband to unserved and underserved rural communities.
  • Grant money and other support funding mechanisms are required to bring quality broadband to very rural communities.

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