Lincoln County Broadband Feasibility Study: wireless is more affordable but not permanent fix

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Lincoln County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing better broadband to all corners of the county.

Here’s the executive summary of the Lincoln County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution for those parts of the county without broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have good broadband, including fiber, while other parts of the county have little or no broadband. This disparity in broadband coverage will eventually harm those portions of the county without broadband and you can expect those areas to suffer lower housing prices and become places where families and business don’t want to be located.

Our study area looked at the feasibility of bringing broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fiber construction over the next few years. In Lincoln County that means the rural areas served Frontier Communications and CenturyLink. The western part of the county is served today by Interstate Telephone Cooperative, and those areas are expected to get fiber. The study area also excludes all of the towns in the county except Arco since the other towns are served by Mediacom.

We then looked at two different business plan scenarios for getting broadband to everyone: building fiber everywhere and building a hybrid network that is a mix of fiber and fixed wireless. Finley Engineering developed estimates of the cost of deploying each network option and CCG used these costs in the financial business plans to see if there is an economically viable model for providing broadband in the rural areas.

The primary purpose of the study was to determine the breakeven penetration level for the rural study area. This represents the number of customers necessary for the scenario to always remain cash positive throughout the life of the financing. This analysis told us the following:

  • It does not look to be economically feasible to build fiber to the study area without significant grant funding. This is not a surprising finding and is directly the result of the high cost of building fiber to farms.
  • The scenarios that mix fiber and wireless technology look feasible. The scenarios can work even without grant funding, but some level of grant funding make the scenarios safer for an investor.

The wireless network designed by Finley is intended to supply at least 25 Mbps download to rural homes in the county, which is a significant improvement for those homes with no broadband today. Some customers will be able to get speeds faster than that on the wireless network.

However, implementing a wireless network would not be a permanent solution. All of the broadband trends in the country show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some point in the future the wireless network will become obsolete in the same manner that happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

The report discusses the next steps the county needs to take after digesting the results of this study. These include such things as looking for a partner to bring broadband to those areas without it today. The goal would be to have a partner by next year to hopefully be ready for future state grant funding.

Murray County Broadband Feasibility Study: fiber in stages may be possible over years, fixed wireless already available

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Murray County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing fiber to all corners of the county.

Here’s the executive summary of the Murray County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution that meets the state broadband goals of 100 Mbps download speeds for those parts of the county without fast broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have fiber to residents, while other parts of the county will be served by slower broadband technologies.

Our study looked at the feasibility of bringing fiber broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fast broadband to homes and businesses over the next few years. The areas served today by Woodstock Communications already have fiber. Redwood County Telephone Company will be building fiber to customers in the Walnut Grove area and thus that area was excluded from the study. There is fast broadband provided by cable companies in the towns of Slayton, Lake Wilson, Currie, Fulda, Avoca, and Hadley and those towns were also excluded from the study. That leaves a study area consisting of the rural areas served today by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications including the towns of Iona, Chandler, Dovray, and the Lakes area.

The studies looked at the business plan for bringing fiber to the service area. The vast majority of the study area has (or will soon have) fixed wireless broadband. This technology can deliver broadband connections in the range of 25 Mbps download, and sometimes faster.

However, we know the county’s goal is to eventually have fiber everywhere and the current wireless broadband is not a permanent bandwidth solution. Broadband trends show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some time in the future these wireless networks will seem too slow and become obsolete in the same manner that has happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

Our analysis shows that it is not economically feasible to build fiber everywhere in the rural parts of the county using the existing Border-to-Border grant program—the 50% grant matching in that program is not high enough to create a sustainable network. However, it would be possible to fund fiber using these grants if the percent of the grant matching is increased above the 50% level used in awarding these grants today. It might also be feasible to build the fiber in stages over multiple years to get the needed grant funding.

It is likely to be a challenge for a service provider to building fiber today since almost all of the rural area is served with newly-built fixed wireless technology that is capable of delivering speeds of at least 25 Mbps download. Any potential fiber provider is going to worry that many households will be satisfied with that level of broadband speed.

Minneapolis Hosting Community Planning Meetings in May – technology is on the agenda

I’m sharing this for folks who are in Minneapolis but also for folks who aren’t but are looking for a model to get their community members together. They have 6 topics that relate to technology:

  • Access to Technology
  • Technology in the Economy
  • Technology in the City Enterprise
  • Data-Driven Decisions
  • Innovations in Transportation and Infrastructure

Here’s the info on upcoming meetings:

Engage in Person at Community Meetings in May

Please attend one of the interactive open houses listed below. Each event will feature the same family-friendly activities created by local artists, as well as free food from local businesses. Throughout the event, you can view and comment on draft policies and maps that are intended to achieve the plan goals. You will also have the opportunity to sit down with city planners and fellow attendees for in-depth discussions on specific action steps listed in the draft plan.

Saturday, May 12, 2018
10:00am‐12:30pm
Northeast Recreation Center, 1530 Johnson St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

Monday, May 14, 2018
5:30pm‐8:00pm
MLK Recreation Center, 4055 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55409

Wednesday, May 16, 2018
5:30pm‐8:00pm
North Commons Recreation Center, 1801 N James Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Thursday, May 17, 2018
5:30pm‐8:00pm
Dayton YMCA at Gaviidae Common, 651 Nicollet Mall #300, Minneapolis, MN 55402

Thursday, May 31, 2018
5:30pm‐8:00pm
Powderhorn Recreation Center, 3400 S 15th Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55407

Can’t attend one of the meetings?

  • The complete draft plan is available at com, with opportunities for comment throughout the site. Learn more about ways to comment online here.
  • Follow us on Twitter @Mpls2040
  • Sign up for our email list
  • Download the Meeting-in-a-Box tool kit (available for download mid-May) to host your own engagement meetings and report back

Chippewa County Broadband Feasibility Study: hybrid fiber and wireless solutions seem viable

With funding from the Blandin Foundation, Chippewa County worked with Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting on a study that would look at if and how the county might take on bringing better broadband to all corners of the county.

Here’s the executive summary of the Chippewa County Broadband Feasibility Study – check out the full study for greater details and next steps…

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting submit this report of our findings and recommendations for the feasibility of finding a broadband solution for those parts of the county without broadband today. The county is typical of many rural counties where a substantial part of the county has or will soon have good broadband, including fiber, while other parts of the county have little or no broadband. This disparity in broadband coverage is already harming those portions of the county without broadband and you can expect those areas to suffer lower housing prices and become places where families and business don’t want to be located.

The base study area looked at the feasibility of bringing broadband to the parts of the county that are not expected to have fast broadband to homes and businesses over the next few years. This includes the rural parts of the county that are served for telephone service today by Frontier Communications, CenturyLink, and Mid-State Telephone, including the town of Watson. We looked at an additional scenario that brought fiber to Montevideo.

The studies looked at two network design scenarios—building fiber to the study area and building a hybrid combination of wireless technology and fiber. The wireless network designed by Finley is intended to supply at least 25 Mbps download to rural homes in the county, which is a significant improvement for those without good broadband today. Some customers will be able to get even faster speeds on the wireless network. We also looked at a scenario that brings fiber to Montevideo.

However, we know the county’s goal is to eventually have fiber everywhere and so implementing a wireless network would not be a permanent solution. All of the broadband trends in the country show that the amount of bandwidth needed by a typical home will keep growing, and at some time in the future a wireless network would become obsolete in the same manner that has happened in the past with dial-up and DSL broadband.

We view the hybrid fiber and wireless solution as a great first step towards improving broadband. This option would bring fiber immediately to about a third of the rural homes in the county, including the town of Watson. The fiber constructed for this scenario is a first step in getting fiber closer to everybody in the county. We think a reasonable business plan is to start with the hybrid option and extend fiber to everybody over time.

Our analysis shows that it is not economically feasible to build fiber everywhere in the county using the existing Border-to-Border grant program—the 50% grant matching in that program is not enough to create a sustainable network. However, the hybrid fiber and wireless solutions all look to be economically viable.

The report discusses the next steps the county needs to take after digesting the results of this study. These include such things as looking for a partner to bring broadband to those areas without it today. The goal would be to have a partner by next year to be ready for future state grant funds.

Free Webinar April 18 on Building Better Broadband for Cities and Counties!

Looks like an interesting session with several Minnesota stories…

Are broadband bandwidth and reliability problems plaguing your town or city due to:

  1. Low population density and hence reluctant investment by major carriers?
  2. Environmental issues that drive up the cost of replacing old, overloaded infrastructure?
  3. Restrictive permitting processes that prolong approval processes?

CJIS GROUP invites you to join Mark Mrla of Finley Engineering, Tom Johnson of Nobles County, Minnesota and Mark Erickson formerly of the City of Winthrop, Minnesota, to learn how two jurisdictions addressed these issues with innovative methods to dramatically improve broadband services to their constituents.

Topics addressed will include:

  • Funding through Public-Private Partnerships and Multi-jurisdictional cooperative agreements
  • Fundamentals of feasibility studies – when do you need them, what do they cost and what do they deliver

Network design and build considerations in difficult physical and economic environments

 

What: Building Better Broadband for Cities and Counties
When: Apr 18 2018 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM (EDT)

Register Now!

Chippewa County takes a closer look at broadband plans

Montevideo American News reports on the recent Chippewa County Board of Commissioners Meeting…

In other business, Chris Konechne of Finley Engineering, and Doug Dawson, CCG, presented the results of the Broadband Feasibility Study. The board directed Konechne and Dawson to set up meetings with prospective partners for a broadband project.

Ely uses feasibility study to come up with better broadband scenarios for the community

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (MunitNetworks) reports…

Last fall, the northern Minnesota community of Ely took up a feasibility study to determine the possibilities of better connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They also wanted to explore local interest in investment. After conducting a survey and reviewing the situation, local officials are contemplating moving ahead with two pilot projects.

They outline the results of a recent community survey…

As anticipated, residents and businesses who took the survey revealed that 94 percent of local residents and 98 percent of business owners want improved connectivity in Ely. Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst for Design Nine, relayed that approximately 400 residents and 60 local business owners completed the survey. The community chose Design Nine to complete the feasibility study.

From the residents who took the survey, only nine percent have connections that meet the FCC definition of broadband — 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Forty-four percent of the people answering the survey purchase DSL Internet access and 27 percent subscribe to cable service.

Forty-eight percent of those who completed the survey said that they have the type of Internet access they have because they have “no other option.” If the Ely community had better competition, for companies and types of services, they might not need to engage in a feasibility study or consider a publicly owned option, but like many rural communities, large national providers are investing elsewhere.

Twenty-three percent of respondents consider themselves self-employed or describe their employment as full-time or part-time from home. In places like Ely, where upload speeds are not robust, entrepreneurs with home bases have a difficult time if their businesses require connectivity. For many businesses today, the ability to send information to colleagues online is a necessity and a fast, reliable connection is critical to everyday business.

Subsequently, they are looking at a few options – like starting with the downtown area…

One of the pilot projects community leaders are now considering is a fiber loop around the downtown area. Community leaders want to help existing businesses and attract new growth. At this early stage, Design Nine and the city are working on cost estimates, but Ely leaders have expressed that better broadband is a priority.

Another focuses on residential areas…

The pilot project for residential service may take on a public-private flavor. One of the early suggestions is that the city invest in fixed wireless equipment and towers and fiber at two local lakes that are outside of city limits. They would own the infrastructure and lease it to a private sector Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer fixed wireless services to the homes around the area.