Little Falls and Morrison County making plans for better broadband

Morrison County Record reports

Officials from Morrison County and the city of Little Falls discussed how they could work together to improve broadband service throughout the county, Monday, during a joint meeting.

County Administrator Matt LeBlanc told the group that, over the weekend, the Minnesota Legislature had passed a bill that included a $110 million investment in broadband throughout the state. That funding includes $50 million in state money for broadband grants and $60 million from the capital projects fund for grants to extend, map and buildout broadband infrastructure.

LeBlanc said the county was not actively involved in or leading a project to expand broadband in the county, but it has worked with two companies that are looking to increase capacity in certain areas. Those are Sytek, which is based in Upsala, and East Central Energy, located in Braham.

The county’s involvement, to this point, has been to provide letters of endorsement on grants for each company. Sytek’s service would focus on the southwestern portion of Morrison County, whereas East Central Energy’s would cover the southeastern part of the county in an application that also includes expanded service in Kanabec and Pine counties.

The Mayor of Little Falls was looking to get involved in the projects but there are issues with eligibility of a town that according to the maps, seems to be served…

Radermacher said, according to a map of broadband service areas within the county, the northwestern and northeastern portions of the county are well covered. The southern part of the county — which would be covered in the proposed projects from Sytek and East Central Energy — along with areas in and around the city of Little Falls are the biggest problem areas.

Previously, the city of Little Falls worked with CTC to build out fiber for the industrial parks and downtown Little Falls. They’ve also hooked up to most city-owned facilities.

However, Radermacher said there are several residential areas in the city that are considered to be served, but are not getting the speeds advertised by providers. He said he has expressed his concerns with those providers, but has essentially been told they are “making improvements.”

The City Administrator previously worked in Madison (MN), a town that was left out of an ARRA funding 10 years ago and was subsequently cut out of the fiber to the home network built back then. (Coincidentally, Madison is finally getting fiber this month!)

Radermacher said he had discussions with former County Administrator Deb Gruber — prior to her leaving the position in August 2021 — about the city and county partnering with additional providers to come in and do another large-scale application. He said that was something in which the city would be “very interested.”

Further, Radermacher said he wants to avoid a situation like he experienced prior to coming to Little Falls, when he worked for the city of Madison. In that case, Lac qui Parle County received a federal grant to build out broadband service to the entire county.

What he said happened was, providers to the city of Madison challenged it, so the town of 1,500 was left out of the grant.

“Living there — we are in the same boat,” Radermacher said. “We had a couple of providers, but they’re not providing the advertised service that they’re saying. We were called this ‘doughnut hole’ of isolation when it came to broadband. I fear that (something) similar could happen if these grants start coming through.”

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