On January 11, Lt. Governor Tina Smith announced Border to Border Broadband Development grants which will help fund the expansion of broadband in rural Minnesota. One of AcenTek’s two grant applications was awarded. A grant of about $1.78 million will help AcenTek build the infrastructure (last mile) to connect 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses, and one community anchor institution in the rural Lanesboro area, including Whalan, Carrolton Township and Holt Township. “Unserved” is defined as less than 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
Lt. Governor Smith said, “The expansion of broadband. . will level the playing field and expand education, health, and job opportunities for thousands of Minnesotans.” Forty-two grants were awarded across the state funded with a 2016 legislative appropriation of $34 million for the Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program. The program is administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The program’s purpose is to aid in the expansion of high speed Internet access in unserved or underserved areas of rural Minnesota. The funding will provide up to 50% of the cost of the infrastructure building projects.
The Lanesboro area project cost will be $4.68 million, with a local match of $2.9 million. The Fillmore County board voted unanimously to endorse the AcenTek application. The Fillmore County EDA supported the board’s decision to contribute $75,000 in support of the application. The commissioners also supported the AcenTek application to build last mile infrastructure in rural Rushford. The Rushford area application was one of many applications that did not receive any grant funding this year.
This grant funding helps to make the development of broadband infrastructure in rural Minnesota economically viable for a locally controlled telecommunications cooperative like AcenTek.
AcenTek chief financial officer Darren Moser expects development work in rural Lanesboro to begin in late spring 2017. Some residents may have broadband access later in 2017. All should have access in 2018. If the legislature funds this grant program in the 2017 session, AcenTek may resubmit the application for the rural Rushford area.
AcenTek will improve service to one Gigabit up and down, which exceeds the 2026 state goal. This will provide employees of Mayo Clinic, IBM, and other businesses who live in the rural Lanesboro area the opportunity to telecommute.
According to DEED’s Office of Broadband Development, Fillmore County has the lowest percentage of households with access to wireline broadband in southeastern Minnesota. Forty-six percent of Fillmore County residents have access to wireline broadband; the Minnesota average is 86% and the national average is 70%.
Fillmore County established the Fillmore County Broadband Alliance “to pursue universal countywide access to fiber optic connectivity.” At an August 10 meeting of the Alliance, it was noted by some residents that faster speeds were necessary for their employment via telecommuting. One resident expects he will either have to rent office space where there is access or find a new job. Another said he has to drive to Rochester to get coverage needed to do his job.
A study by Council Americas found that access to fiber could increase a home’s value by over 3%. This could add about $5,000 to a $170,000 home. The study used a nationwide sample of real estate prices and investigated the relationship between fiber-delivered Internet services and housing prices.
Sam Smith, Fillmore County EDA director, speaking for the EDA board says we are “grateful to AcenTek for their willingness to invest in Fillmore County.” The EDA sees the development of broadband as an economic priority and critical to the economic vitality of the area. Every effort is being made to bring reliable high speed Internet access to “every home, farm, business, and non-profit.” The Fillmore County Broadband Alliance encourages input from those who want to find solutions to the problem of poor Internet connectivity. “The awarding of this grant is an opportunity to make Fillmore County a better place to live, work and do business.”
District 1 commissioner Mitch Lentz has been very supportive of any efforts to improve broadband access within the county. The Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program has been implemented to help Service Providers and Counties expand affordable, reliable broadband Internet access to Greater Minnesota. We were awarded a $1.78 million grant through a partnership with AcenTek, one of our service providers in Fillmore County. By working together, AcenTek will now be able to provide this broadband infrastructure to rural Lanesboro area. “I’m very happy with the work that the Fillmore County EDA Committee has done working with our local providers and their vision of equal access to basic broadband infrastructure services in the entire county, and especially to residents and businesses in the service area that this grant will be applied. This expansion of broadband will connect doctors to patients, students to school, people to jobs, and farmers and businesses to data and markets around the world and will also improve people’s quality of life and make businesses more competitive. The Border to Border Broadband Development Grant is a major step forward for Fillmore County! We still have much more Broadband work to do in Fillmore County, as we still have 80% plus of our rural households underserved by the states goal of at least 25Mbps download/3Mbps upload speeds referenced from the States Office of Broadband Development.”
The Fillmore County EDA brought the Fillmore County Broadband Alliance resolution to the county board for their endorsement. The Alliance is looking for ideas and solutions to more aggressively improve broadband services to all county residents. The EDA proposes that they work with service providers to lay Fiber or Conduit for all new roads and upgrades. Lentz notes this step is still under discussion with the commissioners.