A Golden Shovel groundbreaking event was held on October 3 in Rushford Village/rural Rushford to celebrate a new expansion of fiber Internet in Fillmore County. The last mile project will serve 246 unserved households and businesses, and 311 underserved households, businesses, and community anchor institutions within the rural expansion area.
The broadband expansion project is made possible through a partnership between the state, county and private sector. In this case AcenTek, a rural co-op located in Houston, which serves southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and portions of Michigan is the private partner. Late in 2017 Border to Border Broadband Development Grants were announced which included a grant to AcenTek for the Rushford Village/rural Rushford area in the amount of $2,011,628.
Darren Moser, AcenTek chief financial officer, explained that in this partnership the state pays about 38%, Fillmore County provides a loan in the amount of $75,000, and AcenTek pays for the other 62% (about $6.5 million) of construction costs. The fiber to home installation will provide the latest and greatest speeds in Minnesota. The grant program’s purpose is to assist in the expansion of broadband in rural Minnesota. Moser maintains the public/private partnership is the key to rural broadband expansion.
The last mile project started this year and construction should be finished next fall, allowing a great number of the rural customers to have high speed broadband by this time next year. He noted that Rushford city already enjoys 200 mbps down and 200 mbps up.
The public/private partnership is critical due to the cost of construction in rural areas. It costs $8,000 to $9,000 per individual location. It will take 15 years to recover the initial capital expenditure. The investment by the company is very significant up front. This investment will make sure that high speed Internet is available to these rural residents so that they are not left behind compared to their urban neighbors.
AcenTek and rural Lanesboro received a Border to Border Grant in early 2017 in the amount of about $1.78 million, which paid for about 40% of the construction cost. Construction is done in rural Lanesboro. AcenTek is in the process of cutovers to individual residents. About 50% of these connections are left to do. All hook-ups are expected to be done by the spring of 2019. Rural Lanesboro residents at the beginning of construction were expected to have Internet speeds of 50 mbps down and 100 mbps up. They are already getting 200 down and 200 up.
AcenTek will install infrastructure for broadband in the city of Lanesboro, which was not included in the state grant. Construction should be beginning in the city.
Cooperative Network Services (CNS) are broadband engineering specialists that work with AcenTek.
AcenTek is offering a one year promotion rate to new customers of $29.95 per month. After the initial year the rate will be $49.95.
Moser said the greatest limitation to the expansion of fiber Internet is financial. He feels it is important to continue the Border to Border Broadband Development Program. In order to serve more and more rural areas it will take a lot of dollars and a lot of years. Moser estimated it could take 15 to 20 years more at current funding levels of the state’s broadband program to cover all of rural Minnesota.
Danna MacKenzie, executive director in the Office of Broadband Development, believes broadband is a critical piece of infrastructure which will contribute to the long term economic health of rural Minnesota.
Marty Walsh, Fillmore County EDA director, said the availability of broadband can contribute to a higher quality of life. It can enhance living standards and make rural Minnesota an attractive place to live and run a business.