The golden shovel kick-off event with Fillmore County and AcenTek representatives was held the morning of September 22 in Lanesboro. Construction to install the necessary infrastructure to bring wireline high speed internet to the city of Whalan and sections of Carrolton and Holt Townships is expected to begin in early October. It will be completed in 2018.
AcenTek will build the infrastructure (last mile) which will connect 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses, and one community institution. Unserved is defined as no wireline of at least 25 mbps (megabits per second) down and 3 mbps up. Forty-one percent of households in Fillmore County are unserved under this definition.
Last January AcenTek’s rural Lanesboro fiber build project was one of 42 projects awarded a Minnesota Border to Border Development Program grant. Grants totaling $34 million awarded in 2017 will be administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to improve access to high speed internet in Greater Minnesota.
The Border to Border Grant Program is intended to help companies defray some of the initial cost of infrastructure installation. The rural Lanesboro project is expected to cost $4.68 million to be paid for in a public/private partnership. The state grant was $1.78 million. Fillmore County will loan AcenTek $75,000 in support of the project. AcenTek will invest roughly $2.9 million.
Darren Moser, Chief Financial Officer for AcenTek, said they constantly hear that there is a need. With this project, internet access and speeds will be significantly improved. However, the pricing won’t change. For residential service the price will still be $49.95 for 100 mbps down and 50 mbps up.
Moser explained that a business like Avian Acres which now gets minimum bandwidth will be able to operate on a more competitive basis. It will be a huge step forward. He encourages legislators to continue to fund the broadband program.
The fiber build upgrade will allow for more efficient, secure telecommuting opportunities with Mayo Clinic and IBM. Businesses will have opportunities for expansion and improved efficiency. Access to educational resources, medical providers, and entertainment will be upgraded. Rural residents and businesses will be able to enjoy the same high speed access as urban residents.
A grant for rural Rushford that was also submitted in 2016 but not funded has been resubmitted this year. Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) helped AcenTek write the grant applications. Former Fillmore County EDA director Sam Smith, working for CEDA, deserves credit for his efforts to get the grant applications written, to gain township and county support, and to get them submitted. Fillmore County EDA is and has been supportive of the expansion of broadband throughout the county. The EDA recognizes that access to high speed internet will contribute to economic development within the county.
AcenTek CEO Todd Roesler said they strive to give quality service at a reasonable price. Houston based AcenTek is a locally owned provider of voice, video, and internet services. The company was born in the early 1950s in an effort to provide rural telephone service in the area. In its infancy it was known at the Fillmore County Telephone Cooperative. The fledgling company grew its territory and was renamed Ace Telephone Association. The company has expanded into Iowa and Michigan. In 2014 it was once again renamed, AcenTek (Ascending Technology). It now presents itself as a technology company.
According to DEED, Fillmore County has the lowest percentage of households with access to wireline broadband in southeast Minnesota. Fillmore County established the Fillmore County Broadband Alliance last year to “pursue universal county wide access to fiber optic connectivity.”
In June 2017, the Fillmore County board formally established a Broadband Development Fund in the amount of $150,000. The loan to AcenTek for the Lanesboro project in the amount of $75,000 will be paid back to the county over three years. The board set aside another $75,000 in support of the application that has been resubmitted for the rural Rushford area. Payments will go back into a revolving loan fund to be available in support of future applications for broadband infrastructure projects from any provider in the county.