Broadband Communities

MAY-JUN 2012

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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Public-Public Partnerships: Leveraging Your Neighbor Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services, a consortium of eight Minnesota communities, is building a fiber-to-the-home network through an unusual arrangement with WindomNet, a municipal fiber provider in a nearby city. By John Schultz ■ U-reka Broadband Ventures O n April 23, 2009, more than 30 people interested in developing better broadband in rural south- western Minnesota met to discuss prepa- rations for a possible broadband stimulus grant application. Tis meeting, held at a local golf course in Lakefield, Minn., began the process that led to the deploy- ment of fiber-to-the-premises services to eight rural communities by Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS). Te cities of SMBS have a long his- tory of building their own technology solutions to help their communities keep pace with urban counterparts. In the 1970s, during the great cable tele- vision land grab, three communities – Jackson, Lakefield and Windom – that had no viable options for cable services decided to leverage their existing electri- cal operations to provide cable televi- sion. In the early 2000s, when Round Lake's incumbent provider would not deploy DSL services to the community, Round Lake offered wireless Internet services not only to its constituents but also to neighboring communities. Tis spirit of self-reliance led to the development of SMBS. Windom be- came the first FTTP municipal service provider in Minnesota in 2005 after the failure of a three-year effort to bring competitive broadband services to its community. After the city built its own FTTP network, WindomNet, it held discussions with individual surround- ing cities about extending the network beyond Windom city limits. All these efforts led to that important The SMBS cities have long histories of building their own technology to keep pace with urban counterparts. As soon as the stimulus program was announced, they hit the ground running. meeting in Lakefield. After the meeting, the communities quickly created SMBS to take advantage of the stimulus oppor- tunity. SMBS decided to begin prepar- ing initial marketing, operational and engineering estimates even before the stimulus program rules were in place to make sure it could meet any required time frames. Each of the eight member cities contributed dollars to the project in proportion to their populations, and the Blandin Foundation matched those dollars to prepare a feasibility study. SMBS secured the services of U- reka Broadband Ventures to prepare the feasibility study and the application for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) dollars. By starting early, SMBS was ready when the ARRA ap- plication process was opened and was fortunate to be awarded a first-round About the Author John Schultz is the principal of U-reka Broadband Ventures. U-reka works with lo- cal governments and service providers to create public-private partnerships that bring next-generation broadband networks to rural communities. John can be reached at Learn more at 34 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | MAY/JUNE 2012 loan-grant combination of $12.8 mil- lion from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in January 2010. SMBS was one of the few non-telco organizations to re- ceive an RUS award. However, the award announcement was only the beginning of the process. RUS requirements are stringent to ensure that the projects it funds are successful. Te good news is that, though the RUS funding process was long and dif- ficult, the engineering for the project be- gan in October 2010 and construction began in July 2011 after a community ground breaking event. Te project is now in year two of construction. By the end of 2012, when it is completed, the network will offer services to more than 3,700 homes and businesses.

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