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Issue link: http://bbcmag.epubxp.com/i/374665
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 35 county seat and "Lutefisk Capital USA," is one of eight towns and 22 townships. Agriculture and construction dominate the economy. Prior to the partnership to expand high-speed access, much of the county was served by Frontier's DSL system, whose connection speeds reached about 1.5 Mbps downstream and much less upstream. Slightly faster connections of 3 to 5 Mbps were available from Mediacom in two towns, and most residents outside the towns had to settle for slow dial-up or satellite connections. Understanding the crucial importance of high-speed Internet access, the county Economic Development Authority (EDA) asked Frontier to upgrade its network. Pamela Lehmann, the head of EDA, recounted her experience to Minnesota Public Radio: "We had two meetings with some of the upper management. Tey said they didn't have the funds available for a project like this. When they are looking at the big picture, a small county in west central Minnesota was not their priority at that time." Te county issued a formal request for information, but Frontier did not respond. Meanwhile, Farmers Mutual Telephone (FMT), a cooperative serving some 40 percent of the county territory, already had plans to upgrade its subscribers to fiber optic service. FMT proposed a partnership with the county and agreed to share the costs of a feasibility study, with matching funds provided by the Blandin Foundation, to evaluate the idea of extending this upgrade further. Te study, completed in early 2010, found that a significant area of the county was unserved and desired better access. FMT and Lac qui Parle shared the costs of a grant writer to submit an application in the second round of the federal broadband stimulus funding. Because the towns of Madison and Dawson were considered to be served by Mediacom cable, they were excluded from the project to upgrade the communications infrastructure. In late 2010, the county-FMT partnership received an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act award of $9.6 million, of which half was a grant and the balance a loan. Te stimulus award allowed FMT to connect most of the rest of the county with fber, rather than just upgrading its existing subscriber base. FMT and the county quickly discovered that costs were likely to exceed initial projections. Te county agreed to pay half the shortfall and to lend FMT the other half at no interest for 10 years. Te new project will connect at least 1,738 residential and business premises in addition to two K–12 schools, a library, two medical facilities, three public safety facilities, two community support facilities and two government facilities. Ultimately, the network will cover 339 square miles. Te network will eventually ofer standard triple-play services of telephone, Internet access, and television, but currently it delivers just telephone and Internet access. FMT is working on the necessary agreements to ofer cable television, but small- scale providers are often at an extreme disadvantage in securing content. Te project began in early 2011. FMT began by expanding fiber it had already run to hospitals in Dawson, Madison and Appleton. Te cooperative began ofering services in 2013, and the project was nearly complete in early 2014. Because Madison was excluded from the project, it has slower service than the surrounding areas. Pamela Lehmann, who lives in Boyd but works in Madison, notes that her home connection is faster and more reliable than her work connection. Over time, this may have the efect of hollowing out Madison as businesses find they are more competitive with access to FMT fiber than with slower cable and DSL. Tose who have been able to take service from FMT have been quite pleased. Most residential and business subscribers take 20 Mbps symmetrical Internet service along with telephone services for $68.45 (local service only) or $99.45 (unlimited long distance). However, Frontier began imposing early termination fees on customers who attempted to switch providers, something that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has been examining. SCOTT COUNTY Scott County had long watched as its neighbor Dakota County expanded a county-owned fiber network to improve access for schools and other community anchor institutions. Local leaders learned from those eforts, and the Scott County Board of Commissioners approved the $4 million budget for its 90-mile ring in January 2007. Te savings from no longer having to lease expensive connections from existing carriers was estimated at $500,000 per year. Te county bonded for the project, spreading the cost of building it over many years. Combining the bond payments and operating expenses, the county saves $35,000 per year compared with its cost of leasing lines. Te new fiber network also ofers much higher- capacity connections, a much lower cost per bit delivered and greater reliability. Te network connected all county- owned facilities, including public Lac qui Parle County and Farmers Mutual Telephone were jointly awarded broadband stimulus funding to build a fber optic network that covers most of the county.