Goodhue County Board chooses not to move forward with broadband plan at this time

I’m so used to posting news about counties investing in broadband in their community, it’s unusual to see a county choose not to invest but it looks like that’s what Goodhue is choosing. As the Kenyon Leader reports

Concerned by the sizable price tag, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners has pumped the brakes on a proposed expansion of broadband internet backed by Dennison Mayor Jeffrey Flaten.

The proposal from Twin Cities-based OurTech Co-Op, a recently launched Technology Services Cooperative, would provide broadband to 125 households and 80 businesses, farms or “community anchor institutions” which are currently considered to be underserved.

While the project would be OurTech’s first broadband project, the co-op is planning to partner with Quest Technology Services to complete the project’s construction. California-based Quest is among the largest and most experienced firms on the market, with four decades of experience.

It sounds like project included Dennison in Goodhue County, and Northfield and Wheeling townships in rural Rice County as well as surrounding rural area. It also sounds like the issue was the fact that Commissioners felt the towns were adequately served and the cost was too expensive to serve rural locations…

The project is pricey no matter how you cut it, with a cost of over $6.1 million. That’s a cost of roughly $30,000 per property covered. Almost all broadband projects recently funded by the board have had costs of $10,000 per property or less.

OurTech is seeking state grant dollars for about $4.6 million, but is asking both Rice and Goodhue counties to split the remainder. The city of Dennison hasn’t provided funding. The company says it has spent $18,500 on the project but didn’t commit to spending more.

They explain the cost, although I must admit I’m not sure I understand because I’m not sure if they are talking about strands of fiber of conduit…

The biggest reason for the exorbitant price tag is that the broadband would offer three lines to each household, setting the stage for a competitive market which OurTech Executive Director Jared Petersen would lower costs and increase product quality in the long run.

“Providers worry that if they have an open access model, it reduces their ability to command a higher price for their services,” Petersen told the commissioners at their Feb. 21 meeting. “By injecting an anti-trust model into the way we’re doing things, we’re returning power to the homeowner.”

They must have been looking to use ARPA funds…

At nearly $771,000, the proposed county share exceeds the less than $614,000 the county has in remaining funds for broadband expansion provided by the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. And it would cost more than any other project approved using that funding.

It sounds like a spirited discussion followed with some folks wanting better broadband despite the cost and others feeling like what they had was adequate. Red Wing is in Goodhue County and home to Red Wing Ignite, which is an economic development organization that promotes investment and use of fiber technology. So it seems ironic to have a discussion on the value of better broadband, especially at a time when many other counties are looking to invest.


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