County to discuss funding for Gig Austin efforts

Published 10:34 am Monday, November 9, 2015

The county board could decide Tuesday whether it wants a role in one of Austin’s biggest tech gigs.

During it’s 8:30 a.m. meeting Tuesday, the Mower County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to discuss whether it wants to support Vision 2020’s $32.9 million project to bring a data fiber network throughout the city of Austin and some surrounding rural areas.

Gig Austin logo-4-1-copy1After getting a positive response in September from the Austin City Council, Vision 2020’s Community Wide Technology Committee is seeking county support for Gig Austin, the nonprofit initiative to bring high-speed Internet and massive amounts of data to the city through a gigabit-level network.

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Vision 2020’s Community Wide Technology committee released the results of a feasibility study in July 2014 that shows a high-speed fiber network throughout the city of Austin is a sustainable venture.

That high-speed data network would cover homes and businesses throughout the Austin Public Schools district boundaries. It could provide Internet speeds of up to 1 Gig per second, or hundreds of times faster than normal Internet speeds.

The project, dubbed Gig Austin, was estimated at that time to cost about $35 million to build. The committee also hopes to use state and federal grants, and funding from other partners and nonprofits, to pay for the project.

Yet Vision 2020 officials have said the committee hasn’t found many private funding opportunities for broadband projects on Gig Austin’s scale.

Minnesota lawmakers created the Office of Broadband Technology in 2014, but the state only dedicated about $20 million in potential grants across the state this year and $10 million for 2016.

To that end, Vision 2020 volunteers are looking to local entities to see if they would contribute to the project.

Austin Utilities, which would own the network infrastructure, is expected to contribute about $3 million. Gig Austin will also include a third-party telecommunications company, which will contribute $14.5 million as the entity that will provide services, run billing and other things.

That leaves $15.5 million, which Vision 2020 volunteers hope will be funded through contributions from the city, Mower County, Austin Public Schools, the Hormel Foundation and more.

About 30 percent of the remaining money could be covered through grants, as about 30 percent of the project costs will go toward infrastructure for rural homes, which are classified as underserved in terms of data connection by state and federal telecommunications agencies.

The board meets in the county board room in the basement of the Mower County Goverment Center.

The board is also slated to hear a department report from Health and Human Services Director Lisa Kocer and a program update from Scott Delany of The Bridge.