Building a case for $35 – $50 Million per Year for the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program

Legislators need to be aware of the broadband planning occurring in Greater Minnesota.  Counties are taking the lead and banding together to achieve cost savings and scale.  They share a goal to provide a long-term, high quality broadband solution that meets 2026 state broadband goals for all of their county residents, while rejecting partial solutions that leave all or part of their county behind.

The following projects vary in their readiness, but local teams are working with consultants on feasibility studies to gather market demand, cost and financing data while attempting to build partnerships with willing providers for an expected September 2017 Border to Border Broadband Grant deadline. These feasibility studies are expensive, but are essential to create a broadband business and financing plan.  Moving from community broadband discussion to feasibility study to private public partnership is a multi-year, resource-intensive process.

While there are always uncertainties in competitive broadband deployment, the annual uncertainty at the Capitol wreaks havoc on these broadband business plans.  Everyone recognizes that these projects, by incumbent or competitor, require subsidy to be sustainable.  Without state funding, these projects become more improbable.  Yet, these communities persist because they now know the stakes are high!

These projects represent more than 120,000 households that do not have broadband services at the 2026 state broadband standard.   Funding all of these projects would be a considerable investment, but would move rural Minnesota considerably closer to achieving the 2026 goal while leveraging significant private and other public sector investment.  State leaders should recognize that a lack of broadband will leave these places permanently behind.

Aitkin County
With only 3.7 households per square mile, Aitkin County is extremely difficult to serve.  The county economic development office has been working on broadband for a decade with little progress made until a 2016 broadband grant to Mille Lacs Energy in partnership with CTC.  CTC staff advocates for a higher grant percentage in places like Aitkin County as a necessity for their continued investment.  Such a heavily forested area is an unlikely candidate for a wireless solution

Kandiyohi County
While Willmar has competitive broadband services, the rural Kandiyohi county are left behind.  The county was fortunate to have two providers receive grant funding in 2016, but the remaining areas are considerably more rural and will require higher subsidies to facilitate projects.

Kanabec County
This historically poor county has pursued better broadband for many years, including the investment in a broadband feasibility study.  To date, they are unable to find a partner with which it can find an effective financial solution.  A small portion of the county has seen CAF2 investment, but the reach and quality of service is still uncertain.  Even with the county’s willingness to provide long-term loans, providers have lacked interest in Kanabec County.  They continue to talk with incumbents, cooperative telephone companies and their local electric cooperative to find a solution within the financial capabilities of the county.

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County is one of the larger rural counties in both geography and population.  As a desirable tourism area, the county has had success encouraging telework as an economic development destination in areas where broadband is available.

Redwood County
Redwood County has been working on broadband for several years and has completed a feasibility study.  They have achieved some limited success as existing providers have edged out their broadband services to the rural areas still leaving large unserved areas.

Six SW MN Counties
Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Pipestone Counties are collaborating on a regional feasibility study to gather data and to consider prospective partnerships.  These very low-density population counties need broadband in rural areas to support precision agriculture and farm families.

Traverse County
Traverse County has completed a feasibility study and is pursuing a partnership with a wireless provider.

Pope County
Pope County has completed a feasibility study and has emerging partnerships with a number of providers delivering services in served areas of Pope County and surrounding counties.

Isanti County
Isanti County is in process of selecting a feasibility study consultant.  They have been communicating with existing wired and wireless providers in hopes of agreeing to partnership terms with one or more providers.

Roseau County
Roseau Electric Cooperative is considering broadband deployment strategies.

Collaborative Community Applications

  1. Ely, Winton and surrounding area
  2. Orr, Cook, Bois Forte, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney, Hibbing, & Chisholm

 

Compiled by:
Bill Coleman
Community Technology Advisors
651-491-2551
bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com

 

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