Mower supports MIDCO’s efforts to provide high-speed internet to rural towns

Published 8:42 am Wednesday, August 28, 2019

With a vote of approval during Tuesday’s county board meeting, Mower County is on a higher-speed trek to gaining rural broadband access to all of its residents.

The Mower County Board unanimously approved a resolution, along with a letter of support for Mid Continent Communication (MIDCO) choosing the county as a project site to receive high-speed internet access for 9,371 places for optical fiber and terrestrial fixed wireless access, in a 5-0 vote. Commissioner Jerry Reinartz made the motion, with Commissioner Polly Glynn seconding.

County Administrator Trish Harren made a recommendation to the commissioners about MIDCO’s request.

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MIDCO, which is a company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, requested a resolution and support from Mower County after having been awarded $38.9 million in Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II funding through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This part of the region received CAF funds because of its large geographic area that remains unserved or underserved.

Mower County was one of the counties identified and chosen by MIDCO to be a recipient of the grant if successful with the application. The grant would be between $300,000 to $500,000 for bringing high-speed internet access to residents. Officials are looking to keep deployment costs under $5,000 per home.

Then, MIDCO would deploy fixed wireless assets in a six- to seven-mile radius within those communities.

For many living in the area outside of Austin, high-speed internet has been lacking because of the agricultural industry in Mower County. As many private providers weren’t willing to shell out exorbitant expenses to provide high-speed internet in a rural area, depending on grants and funding from the FCC would be one of the few, if only, ways for the county to obtain this type of utility for the residents who live there as well as the farmers who work the land.

“To deploy fiber for $5,000 or less is more affordable,” Harren said. “For the FCC to get out to a rural farmer can cost $100,000 to $200,000. This is very much like trying to get a phone to everyone in the country, or electricity in every house. There isn’t anyone with that kind of funding to cover those costs in the region. There aren’t going to be providers coming to knock on our door because it’s too costly.”

Now, with the Mower County Board’s approval, that means MIDCO can continue forward with its application for a grant from Minnesota Broadband that would permit MIDCO to build out broadband in unserved or underserved areas in six counties, and their grant with either five or six projects, according to a previous story.

Communities that would be encompassed in this rural broadband service, includes: Sargeant, Waltham, Elkton and Grand Meadow

“We are underserved, and having rural broadband deployed makes good business sense for the private sector,” Harren added. “They’d make a profit and be able to make this work.”

Since Mower County is mostly flat and open, the terrain would be ideal for some fiber to be buried under the ground as well as for terrestrial fixed-assets onto structures like grain bins or water towers that would help expand the radius in which the high-speed internet connection can go.

“So, basically they’d have a fiber put into place?” Glynn asked Harren.

“They’re able to deploy wireless internet five or six miles,” Harren responded. “It’s fiber in the ground and houses would be able to have access, as well as the new technology for the fixed assets to be attached to a grain bin or water tower. Back when I worked in Itasca County, this type of technology didn’t exist and we could only do fiber on the ground. This is a greater opportunity for Mower County.”

Reinartz also expressed his interest in the opportunity, stating that the broadband could “cover the whole county” now that communities in underserved or unserved areas would have the potential to get connected to fiber or have a fixed asset in close proximity to their homes and businesses.

One of the visitors to the board was Daniel Larson, who represented MN Rural Counties, an organization that participated in the Rural Broadband Coalition to support funding border to border broadband. Larson made a testimony to the board about the necessity of ensuring that rural counties in Greater Minnesota continue to have their voices represented at the state legislature and to make their case about why they need to have rural broadband services funded and expanded in the rural parts of the state.

“Rural counties, we have to find our niche,” he said. “We want to put our own special message out about rural broadband. We’re bringing technology more and more into the things we do. Any issues that finds its way into the hallways of the state capitol is that nobody is defining what’s critical to the rural culture and economy.”

In closing, Larson stated that in order for their collective voices to make an impact on state representatives, it was important for rural counties to band together and represent their communities at the state level to make their stories known to the metro area.

“We’re growing,” he said. “But, we need to grow more.”