The agony of rural broadband, the thrill of making it happen

This week City Pages has a nice feature on rural broadband. A good wake up for those of us in the Cities who aren’t living on the frontlines of slow Internet. They do a good job telling the stories…

Outside nearby Gibbon, Linda Kramer endured a similar fix. Her family grows corn, soybeans, and wheat, while her husband also works as a crop consultant. He’d attempt to send field data to clients, only to watch it take days to upload. So he’d find himself driving 40 miles just to deliver thumb drives.

“We weren’t being able to accomplish what people in the cities or other rural areas were able to accomplish,” Kramer says.

Their problems weren’t unique. Across hulking swaths of Minnesota, gas stations struggle to run credit cards. Counties see scant hope of nursing new businesses. And everyone worries the evacuation of their young will only accelerate. Forgive college grads who can’t see futures in places where it takes hours to load an Instagram photo.

They highlight a solution that is working in Renville and Sibley Counties…

Winthrop—population 1,399—was too small to build a high-speed fiber system on its own. So it resorted to a spirit of socialism practiced a century ago, the kind that brought electricity, phone lines, and farm cooperatives to the Minnesota backcountry.

It would seem a despairing quest. Sibley County is in the heart of Trumpland. “Out here, we’re quite conservative,” says Erickson. “When the Republican Party says something, people listen.”

Yet the resulting campaign would exhibit a savvy and insistence few lefty activists could match. It involved 10 cities and 17 townships across Renville and Sibley counties. Over 100 educational meetings spanning two years. Seventy volunteers to carry the load.

The final outcome: RS Fiber, a co-op that delivers better internet than most Twin Citians receive.

And the difference fast broadband has made…

For Jacob Rieke, it means no longer fearing for his daughters’ schooling. He can now employ all the weaponry of precision farming, saving between $5,000 and $20,000 annually on seed costs alone.

For Linda Kramer, it means getting 10 times the speed of her old service for the same price, allowing her family to be “good stewards of the land.” An ability to read the subtleties of a field prevents over-fertilizing, which has left most southwest Minnesota waterways too toxic for swimming. “The technology is really allowing people to do good things.”

RS is also fostering commerce. A new 3D printer business in Gibbon can send data-heavy files to clients. An industrial electrician in Winthrop does work all over the world.

They talk about Windomnet too, another innovative approach to service in rural areas…

Fortune’s success comes courtesy of Windomnet, among the nation’s first city-owned internet concerns. The company’s databases handle orders 24/7, a task impossible in much of outstate, since time-outs and dropped connections corrupt files, turning orders into horrors.

And Paul Bunyan…

The same thing could be said of Bemidji, home to Paul Bunyan Communications. It began as a telephone co-op in the 1950s, eventually moving on to TV and internet across multiple counties. “They’re really transforming that entire region,” says Coleman. “It’s becoming a high-technology center.”

And Lake Connections…

Lake County rode to the rescue. It created Lake Connections, with the unforgiving task of bringing broadband to 11,000 residents scattered across 2,100 square miles, an enterprise no private company would attempt.

 

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

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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