How much is a public infrastructure project? Putting $22 million for fiber in Yellow Medicine County in perspective

Government Technology reports on the prospective cost of better broadband in Yellow Medicine County (MN)…

A newly completed study looking at bringing broadband service to rural areas of the county calculates that it will cost $20 million to $22 million to lay the fiber optic network needed.

It’s a matter of the county’s geography and dispersed population, according to Doug Dawson, president of CCG Consulting, and Chris Konechne, project engineer with Finley Engineering. They presented the study to the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday in Granite Falls.

Their study found that the county would need to lay fiber optic cable along 955 miles of roadway to serve 1,862 homes and businesses in the rural areas that are currently not served by broadband.

They also look at a lower cost option…

The study provided another option for the county. The consultants said the county could consider a combined wireless and fiber-optic “hybrid” system for a $5 million investment. A 52-mile network of fiber-optic cable could connect towers and reach the rural areas with a wireless system delivering 25 megabytes of service per customer, the minimum speed for broadband. Dawson described it as a less costly, first step toward eventually developing a more comprehensive broadband network.

But recognize the limitations…

And, he noted at the onset of his presentation, that while a 25-megabyte capacity would meet today’s needs, it will certainly become outdated. Since 1980, internet speed has doubled every year, he said.

I’ve said many times, there is room for fiber and wireless. Wireless is a great interim solution for rural areas and even after fiber is deployed, customers will want the mobility of wireless. You can access the feasibility study on the County web site. And I recently reported on discussions in Yellow Medicine and noticed that Farmers Mutual Telephone submitted an application to the Office of Broadband Development – so it looks as if things are moving forward.

But for some reason these numbers jumped out at me. It’s hard to put my arms around $22 million. So I wanted to do a little comparison and found some pricing (albeit from 2015) on cost of maintaining roads. The Pioneer Press reported…

How much does it cost to fix a road?

Anywhere from $167,000 to $3.7 million or more per lane-mile.

That’s to fix – not build. So the cost to build fiber 955 miles is $20-22 million. The cost to fix a road is $166 million to $3.5 billion.

And an interesting fact for the rural-urban eyes out there, here’s some info on building roads…

f the road’s substructure is in good condition, then rough pavement can be fixed by just applying a new surface. A typical asphalt resurface costs about $167,000 per lane-mile — meaning double that for a two-lane road and more if the road is wider. Concrete is sturdier but more expensive: a new concrete surface costs about $488,000 per lane-mile, according to MnDOT.

If a road deteriorates to the point where its substructure also needs replacement, fixing it becomes a lot more expensive. A full reconstruction costs about $1 million per lane-mile for a rural road, and $2.2 million per lane-mile in a town.

Because of the denser population in the Twin Cities, metro-area projects can be significantly more expensive — up to 70 percent more. That means more than $3.7 million for a lane-mile — or $7.5 million per mile for a two-lane city street.

I’m not saying $22 million isn’t a lot of money. I guess I’m just saying it depends what you do with it.

HBC gets a nod for wireless work in rural Minnesota

A recent article in the Daily Yonder looks at WISPs – Wireless Internet Service Providers  as the “unsung heroes” of rural broadband, calling out HBC by name…

Even some traditional fiber providers are seeing value in adopting a WISP mindset. Hiawatha Broadband Communications in Minnesota has been selling residents in 10 towns 25 Mbps symmetrical wireless since 2015. An internet service provider might take several years to finish a fiber network, but Hiawatha got wireless up and running much more quickly. Rather than wait for fiber, Hiawatha’s customers are overjoyed to get wireless because the only other option was dial up.

“Rather than focus on speed, the policy makers, funding agencies, and others should focus on unlimited data because if you listen to consumers, that’s what they want,” says Carr. “Fixed wireless with no data caps is the sweet spot where WISPs play. This bias against wireless in some quarters is no longer grounded in reality.”

The Daily Yonder does a good job describing the difference between fixed wireless (which is what they are talking about here) and cellular…

WISPs use fixed wireless, in which a transmitter “fixed” in one location transports data back and forth between one or more receivers fixed on homes, buildings, or other structures. Fixed wireless is different from, and performs better than, cellular data networks. WISPs generally don’t have strict data caps and high overage charges, the way many cellular data plans do.

I have often said there is a place for wireless AND wired connections. As the article points out, fixed wireless is a fraction of the cost to deploy fiber. So it is an good interim solution – build wireless to build a customer base and serve a community need while working on fiber. And even once fiber is deployed, people will want the mobility of a wireless solution.

NU-Telecom launches Hanska broadband project

According to The New Ulm Journal

NU-Telecom recently celebrated the launch of one of its 2017 broadband development projects, made possible by a grant awarded by The Minnesota State Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). NU-Telecom received three of the 42 grants announced by Lt. Governor Tina Smith earlier this year.

NU-Telecom received $200,397, roughly 45 percent of the $445,326 project, to build fiber connections to 46 homes and businesses in the rural area of Hanska, an area previously designated as unserved and an underserved area. NU-Telecom received two additional grants in the rural areas of Bellechester and Mazeppa, MN. President and CEO Bill Otis stressed the significance of reliable broadband in rural communities.

It’s great news for Brown County!


MN broadband grant requests $50.3 million – more than twice available funds

Monday was the deadline for the Minnesota Border to Border grant applications. The Office of Broadband Development reports that they received 70 applications, totaling $50.3 million in requests and representing $112 million in total project costs. During the 2017 session, the legislature included $20 million in funds for the Border-to-Border Broadband grant program.

You can get a full list of applicants online (I’ll paste that info below too). The next step is to see if there are any challenges to the applications. Here’s more info on that from the OBD…

An entity wishing to challenge an application must do so by 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 16, 2017. Challenges will only be considered from providers that submitted updated broadband mapping data to Connected Nation in the spring 2017 data collection period. Challenges must be submitted in writing to the Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351. A separate challenge must be submitted for each project being challenged.

So who is asking for funds?

  • AcenTek (2 applications)
  • Albany Mutual Telephone Company (2 applications)
  • Advantenon (6)
  • Arvig (1)
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Company (1)
  • BEVCOMM (6)
  • Carlton County (1)
  • CenturyLink (3)
  • Farmers Mutual Telephone Company (2)
  • Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa (3)
  • Garden Valley Telephone Company (1)
  • Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association (2)
  • Halstad Telephone Company (1)
  • Hanson Communications (1)
  • Jaguar (1)
  • KMTelecom (1)
  • Mediacom (4)
  • Midco (3)
  • Midstate/TDS (3)
  • Minnesota Valley Telephone Company (1)
  • NU-Telecom (5)
  • Otter Tail Telcom (1)
  • Palmer Wireless (5)
  • Paul Bunyan Communications (1)
  • Runestone Telecom Association (1)
  • SCI (4)
  • Sjoberg’s Cable (1)
  • West Central Telephone Association (2)
  • Wikstrom Telephone Company (1)
  • Windomnet (1)
  • Winthrop Telephone Company (1)
  • Woodstock Telephone Company (3)

At what speeds:

  • 1 Gbps/1Gbps – 37 applications
  • 1Gbps/500Mbps – 4
  • 1 Gbps/100Mbps – 3
  • 1Gbps/50Mbps – 4
  • 1Gbps/20Mbps – 1
  • 940Mbps/20Mbps – 3
  • 250Mbps/20Mbps – 4
  • 100Mbps/100Mbps – 8
  • 100Mbps/20Mbps – 1
  • 25Mbps/3Mbps – 4


Which counties are looking for funds?
(This does not indicate that the whole county is applying, usually just a portion)


  1. Aitkin County
  2. Benton County
  3. Brown County
  4. Carlton County
  5. Chippewa County
  6. Chisago County
  7. Cottonwood County
  8. Dodge County
  9. Douglas County
  10. Faribault County
  11. Fillmore County
  12. Freeborn County
  13. Goodhue County
  14. Grant County
  15. Hennepin County
  16. Houston County
  17. Hubbard County
  18. Itasca County
  19. Kandiyohi County
  20. Kittson County
  21. Lac qui Parle County
  22. Lake of the Woods County
  23. Lincoln County
  24. Lyon County
  25. Marshall County
  26. Martin County
  27. Mahnomen County
  28. McLeod County
  29. Meeker County
  30. Mille Lacs County
  31. Morrison County
  32. Otter Tail County
  33. Pennington County
  34. Pine County
  35. Pipestone County
  36. Polk County
  37. Pope County
  38. Ramsey County
  39. Redwood County
  40. Rice County
  41. Roseau County
  42. St Louis County
  43. Scott County
  44. Sherburne County
  45. Sibley County
  46. Stearns County
  47. Stevens County
  48. Todd County
  49. Wadena County
  50. Wilkin County
  51. Wright County
  52. Yellow Medicine County

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Webinar Archive: Digital Inclusion: Assessments, Training and Certifications

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Digital Inclusion Training webinar today. Here’s the video archive…

The PPTs

And the description…

Overcoming fears and improving digital skills allows the digitally excluded to make full of broadband-based technologies to improve their school and work readiness as well as their overall quality of life.  Learn how groups in Minneapolis, Cass Lake and Worthington are using digital literacy tools, including assessments, training, workplace partnerships and other strategies to help learners of all ages and abilities.

When: 3-4:00 CST Thursday Sep 14


  • Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services
  • Hannah Buckland, Leech Lake Tribal College
  • Angie Willardson, Project for Pride in Living
  • Julie Foote, MVTV Wireless
  • Sharon Johnson, Worthington Community Education
  • Kayla Westra, MN West Community & Technical College

Broadband Update in Yellow Medicine Broadband: partner, plan, local investment

The Yellow Medicine County Board met to discuss their broadband plan – investment, grant applications and partners in a plan to being providing fiber service to the county. Sounds like they have a willing partner and community investment. They are hoping for a Minnesota broadband grant – and I’d say that’s the linchpin here in the project. They are asking good questions. The Independent reported on the meeting.

Scope of work…

Two methods were being looked at, Konechne said. First, to build fiber into the entire area or building a hybrid model with fiber to towns and branch off of that.

In the rural area, YMC is looking at a potential of 1,862 customers.

“That includes a large pile of homes and a handful of businesses without internet service,” Dawson said. He and Konechne went into the details of the 52-mile width of land to cover, he called it the backbone. It adds up to about 955 miles of rods, weaving down township roads because there seems to be a household down each one, he said.

The investment…

They are looking at delivering the service on poles, like telephone wires.

The next steps for the county to consider were half done, the consultants said, because the first step was to find a partner for the project. Which, depending on getting a grant, the board had made that agreement at the last meeting.

The YMC Board approved a $4 million broadband agreement with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative (FMTC) in August pending the cooperative receiving a grant to cover half of the costs for the project.

The details…

The grant would only cover about 49 percent of the project FMTC had asked the county to loan it the other 51 percent if the grant came through. The county could bond the funds at a minimum of $4 million with the repayments coming from FMTC.

Isaackson then brought up a coverage glitch. The project is to service the central and northeast portion of the county, not the southeast where he lives.

“How are we covered?” he asked.

Heglund said that the county was looking at Arvig to cover that area since it is already in parts of the southeast end of the county.

“They have five to 10 years to complete the project,” she said.

Some specifics…

“Fiber to towers will enhance MVTV service,” Antony said.

“The 52-mile backbone does hit a lot of their spots,” Konechne said. A successful combination is high elevation (towers) and solid backbone (fiber).

The second step is to find the other half of the financing for the unserved area. Another partner to help with that would be ideal.

Repaying a loan was weighing on Greg Isaackson’s mind. Isaackson, from Cottonwood, is the treasurer for MVTV. He wanted to know what happens if the annual payment on the bonded amount doesn’t get paid.

“The fiber is collateral,” Heglund said. “We’d have to find another partner.”

She went on to explain that there would be precautions up front. The county has to get at least a 63 percent take rate (subscribers). Farmers Mutual Cooperative would have to show it financials, that it can make these payments, before the deal went through.

Grant and other funding opportunities that could be stretched to support broadband

I know I’ve mentioned some of these before – but it’s easy enough for me to skim off the broadband grants when I’m posting the Minnesota Rural Partners newsletter and I figure folks never mind hearing twice about funding opportunities…

–Foundation for Rural Service is offering grants to nonprofits seeking to create programs that promote business development, community development, education or telecommunications in rural communities served by National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) members. Awards range from $250 to $5,000. Preference will be given to proposals that foster collaboration among and community engagement, and that can be fully funded by the grant or have 75 percent or more of the project currently funded. Deadline: 9/15/2017. To learn more and apply, click here.

–Blandin Foundation Broadband Grants: Broadband Innovation and Robust Network Feasibility Fund grant award amounts range from $1,000 to $25,000, and matching funds are required. Grant application deadline September 22

Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Program  Grants to help schools and parent teacher groups with school improvement and to provide for the basic needs of their students. Application Deadline: Sep 29, 2017.

Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program This U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Rural Utilities Service  program furnishes loans and loan guarantees to provide funds for the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas. Application Deadline: Sept 30, 2017.

Minnesota Department of Health helps eligible applicants establish, operate, or subsidize clinic facilities and services to offer health services to American Indians who live off reservations in Minnesota through its Indian Health Grant Program. Nonprofit organizations, governmental and tribal entities are eligible to apply. Deadline: 10/18/2017. To learn more and to apply, click here.

Laura Jane Musser Fund has the following grants open. Rural Initiative Grants – Deadline: November 2, 2017 DETAILS

–The Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples is offering funding in the following program areas: Arts and Creativity, Health and Well-Being, Rights of Mother Earth, Sustainable Communities and Economies, Leadership Development, and Rights, Equity, and Justice. Grants from $250 to $10,000, with an average of $5,000, are provided to Native communities that address one or more of the Fund’s program areas. The remaining postmark deadline for 2017 is 12/1/2017. (Mini-grants of up to $500 are reviewed throughout the year.) Application guidelines and forms are available on the Fund’s website

Hearst Foundations Grants to support well-established nonprofit organizations working in the fields of education, health, culture, and social service.

Walgreens Community Grant Program  provides funding for access to health and wellness, pharmacy education programs and mentoring initiatives, civic and community outreach, and emergency and disaster relief.