Mankato Free Press reports…
If Blue Earth County wants to have rural broadband internet, it’s going to have to pay a potentially unworkable amount of money.
That’s what consultants recently found in a broadband feasibility study, which they presented to the Blue Earth County Board Tuesday.
According to the study, it could cost more than $35 million to install 1,067 miles of fiber to connect all rural areas of Blue Earth County, excluding the Mankato area and larger cities such as Lake Crystal and Madison Lake. A combination of wireless networks and fiber, about 161 miles in total, would cost about $11 million to install.
Consultants at Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting say internet service providers are far more likely to favor the hybrid wi-fi/fiber approach just based on cost alone. An all-fiber network that could offer internet speeds of at least 100 mbps downloading and 25 mbps uploading likely wouldn’t break even after customers are hooked up and paying for services.
“This is hard to make back when you charge somebody $60 a month for broadband,” said Doug Dawson, president of CCG.
Yet a hybrid project would not only break even but make money after a few years, according to consultant projections.
The article goes on to talk about the potential role of the MN border to border broadband grants and the strong desire from the community to have better broadband…
To solve that issue in Blue Earth County, local officials plan to partner with providers to encourage expanding broadband access. Consultants recommend the county pay for a resident survey gauging how much interest Blue Earth County homeowners and businesses have to get better internet.
Such a study could be used as part of a state grant, which Chris Konechne of Finley Engineering said is what Bevcomm is doing with a potential project in Le Sueur County.
It could be difficult to find providers to start a project within the next few years, as consultants say several companies working in the area are waiting to see whether Midco (Midcontinent Communications) expands its services within Blue Earth County.
Yet commissioners say securing better broadband is important to Blue Earth County’s growth.
Grants do help offset the costs to the provider. And a hybrid network can be a step toward ubiquitous fiber; build fiber to more profitable areas first and upgrade to other areas as you can. We’ve seen with communities across Minnesota that it is expensive – but we’ve also see that the community reaps the benefits when they have better broadband and as more and more communities get fiber, there will be a cost of not upgrading.