I’ve written about the situation in Le Sueur County before. They have been working to get better broadband for years. Then a provider (LTD) was awarded the possibility of getting a big chunk of federal money (RDOF) to bring FTTH in several parts of Minnesota including parts of Le Sueur. Le Sueur County News has more – and frankly the fact that a local paper gets into such details about a complex issue speaks to the priority and urgency the community feels…
Many under-served and unserved areas of Le Sueur County are now ineligible for Border to Border grant dollars since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auctioned over $408 million in grants to internet service providers to construct fiber optic networks across northeastern and southern Minnesota.
Of all the companies competing for grants, the largest sum is expected to go to a little-known ISP: LTD Broadband. The telecom provider bid for over $311,000 in 102,000 locations across the state. LTD’s planned fiber optic network encompasses approximately two thirds of unserved and under-served areas in the county.
Gov. Tim Walz announced the state would reject broadband grant applications in places that federal auction grant winners plan to build. State officials have claimed it would be wasteful to invest state dollars in projects overlapping with projects that could receive funds from the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).
But the RDOF grants are still preliminary, and many experts have raised concern that LTD Broadband can’t meet its goals. At this time, LTD is a smaller provider with over 2,100 wireless towers, but the company aims to use $1.3 billion in grant monies to rapidly expand its service area to bring high speed internet to 500,000 locations across the country within the six-year time frame required by RDOF.
At that scale, local broadband advocates doubted that the federal grant money would go far.
“For the whole county, it’s $1 million in federal dollars for what is a multi-million dollar project,” said Le Sueur County Broadband Consultant Barbara Droher-Kline. “How viable is it for LTD, with $1 million, to bring fiber to the door of every household?”
The County continues to work for better broadband, but this RDOF process is currently creating more barrier than opportunity…
With federal dollars from the CARES Act, Le Sueur County pursued an aggressive strategy to expand rural internet access. About 420 homes in Waterville, Kilkenny, Montgomery, Cordova, Sharon, Lexington, and Kasota townships were connected to a 49-mile fiber optic network built by Metronet in partnership with the county.
Le Sueur County hoped to continue to build out from those networks with Border-to-Border grant applications, proposing to connect high speed fiber optic cables in Lexington, Montgomery, Kilkenny, Cordova, Sharon, Ottawa and Kasota townships. Fiber was planned to be in the ground this past spring, and the network would have been fully operational by the end of next year.
But the county’s applications were rejected by the state, since the RDOF award to LTD Broadband overlapped with the project area.
“It’s a blockage of dollars. It’s not a resource for us,’ said Droher-Kline.