The Nobles County Board of Commissioners boosted the local “Fiber to Home” broadband effort by reaffirming its $2 million commitment and kicking in another $2 million after a grant application for USDA funding was denied.
“We’re dumbfounded,” said Mark Loosbrock, secretary/treasurer of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company, which spearheaded the project. “They had maps that our engineers, that nobody had. That’s why that money got denied.”
Loosbrock explained that in applying for the grant, engineers and consultants used maps to assess the area already served by broadband, and given that information had believed they would be given a high number of points on the grant’s scoring rubric. However, those assessing the application had maps not available to the co-op’s engineers, Loosbrock said.
However, the co-op was told it could apply for a grant in the next round of funding — which has a November deadline, driving co-op representatives to return to the county board to ask for direction and potentially, enough local matching funding to reapply for the grant.
They decided to double down on their investment…
In the end, commissioners reaffirmed their prior commitment of $2 million, once again contingent on the grant being accepted, and then voted to put $1 million of its federal American Rescue Plan Act money to the project.
Following those board actions, Commissioner Justin Ahlers proposed directing $250,000 of the county’s wind energy production money per year for four years toward the project — after calling Metz back to the commission to answer a few questions about the wind production funds. Metz said he anticipated better wind energy production gains this year, and then returned to his place in the audience.
Ahlers’ motion passed 3-0.
County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp praised the broadband initiative for its economic development potential, and Ahlers emphasized how important it is for education.