The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County

The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County on their road to getting better broadband…

Over the last three years, Le Sueur County, Minnesota has assembled a task force of citizens, local officials, and business leaders which have succeeded in dramatically improving broadband for thousands of residents who previously had poor or no connectivity. In doing so, they’ve also forged relationships, inventoried local resources, and created a model which is likely to see the landscape go from one where nearly all residents in the county were under- or unserved by basic broadband at the beginning of 2018 to one where the vast majority of the community will have access at 100/20 Mbps in the next couple years. And if efforts continue to succeed, it’s possible we might see full fiber coverage in Le Sueur by the end of the decade, making it one of the most connected counties in the state.

They follow the story from start…

Until the middle of the last decade, residents were largely on their own to find solutions. Starting about five years ago, however, things began to change. One Le Sueur resident who had paid individually to bring better Internet access to her home so she could run her small business took the initiative to bring up issue to the county board. Shortly thereafter, a diverse and energetic group came together to form the local broadband task force, including community residents, the IT director for a collection of the town school districts, IT Manager for Le Sueur County Jeff Niesen, local business leaders, the county board, and the county administrator. All agreed that there was a case for better broadband for homes as to drive economic development.

Le Sueur worked on a feasibility study…

Work to improve local connectivity began in 2017, when the county helped secure a $50,000 from the Blandin Foundation to do a feasibility study and look for solutions. At the same time, in 2018 the county put out a broadband survey to get a handle on where service was and wasn’t (for reasons we’ll reiterate until we’re blue in the face or it’s fixed), illustrated in the map to the left where red areas of the county are unserved, purple areas underserved with connections between 25/3 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps, and green areas served by wireline broadband of at least 100/20 Mbps. By 2019 these preliminary endeavors were done, but the county — realizing that tackling the entirety of the $14 million project consisting of 800 miles of fiber in one attempt was unrealistic — approached expanding broadband in a targeted and incremental fashion instead.

That led to a successful MN Border to Border broadband grant…

The first move was to use the feasibility study as the basis for issuing an RFP to partner with local ISPs to apply for a Border to Border Broadband grant operated under the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) program, which in 2019 led to a successful partnership with a local telephone company for a project covering 225-250 homes using 100 miles of fiber in Derrynane (pop. 525) and Lanesburg (pop. 2,100) Townships on the northern end of the county, along with a handful of homes in nearby Montgomery and Lexington townships.

Then reaction to the pandemic…

Le Sueur had no more warning than did any other community in forecasting the current pandemic, but when it hit the local broadband task force kicked into high gear. Three projects were realized to bring better connectivity to the region.

  • The first of these is a partnership with ISP MetroNet using CARES Act funds for a fiber network expansion which has connected about 420 homes (including 59 completely unserved) using 49 miles of fiber in Waterville, Kilkenny, Montgomery, Cordova, Sharon, Lexington, and Kasota.

  • The second project is a partnership with NetWave Broadband to add wireless hardware to seven towers throughout the county in Cleveland, Cordova Township, Kasota Township, Le Center, Montgomery, Tyrone Township, and Waterbill with a rough range of seven to ten miles each to bring service up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds out to the remaining 80% of the unconnected.

  • Third and finally, the county has installed free public Wi-Fi access to seven areas around the county, including boat landings, community parks, and campgrounds.

Blandin gets a nod…

You can see the gains made in te last two years in the map to the left, where red areas (unserved) turned purple and purple areas (underserved at <100/20 Mbps) turned green. Le Sueur is a Blandin Broadband Community for 2020-2021, and the county attributes its success over the last three years to the energy brought by local residents and county officials. It seems from the outside that part of their success, also, has been in finding and forging relationships with local and regional ISPs to the benefit of both residents and those companies.

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