Rural broadband grants reach far, but little in St. Louis Co.

PHOTO: Gavin St. Ours, Flickr CC

This morning, the state of Minnesota unveiled its list of projects funded under the Border-to-Border Broadband rural internet expansion program. The grants total more than $34 million and will fund 42 projects throughout the state.

Several Northern Minnesota projects made the list. Paul Bunyan Communication will continue its expansion in Itasca County, including new territory in Harris Township this summer. Mediacom will also expand service in other parts of Harris. TDS Communication will extend service to a number of locations in Crow Wing County.

The Border-to-Border Broadband program connects private, public, or cooperative internet providers to matching funds to help them maximize investments in new or improved telecommunication delivery systems, especially in unserved or underserved places.

The complete list with further detail may be found at the bottom of this post. You can see the map here.

The only project in St. Louis County is a small Mediacom expansion in Fayal Township south of Eveleth. Why was there only one small project in St. Louis County?

In short, there were few projects to fund. The phone company CenturyLink has tremendous sway in rural St. Louis County and has all but stood on the brakes for cable expansion in its territory. I know, because I just escaped the copper-wire tyranny of this rural monopoly.

CenturyLink is quick to promise higher speed internet options in the future, but slow to do anything. I was told my rural Itasca County home would be covered by DSL in five years — 15, 10, and 5 years ago. Only when Paul Bunyan Communication moved in did I get in-ground high speed internet.

Meantime, CenturyLink spiked a number of locations on the recent Paul Bunyan Central Itasca Fiber project claiming those areas were in their coverage map, but haven’t provided any documentation on their plans for broadband in those areas. The people affected are stuck in limbo, and that’s not fair.

It’s not all CenturyLink’s fault, though. At some point, you have to blame the people who let this happen. Localities in rural St. Louis County haven’t organized the way they have in Itasca County and other places in Minnesota.

I say this because I’ve detected some “why not us” commentary after writing about expansions in Itasca County. Why not? Well, indeed! St. Louis County, with the help of individual townships, must identify rural households that need better service. Then they must use that information to help providers make the grant requests. If one provider refuses or makes excuses, then others must be sought. That’s the point of this.

Right now a lot of focus has gone to bringing high speed internet to rural St. Louis County township halls and fire stations. You can get wi-fi in the parking lot. That’s a start, but hardly the end goal.

Here’s to St. Louis County catching up. The march goes on! Our shared message must be that all of rural Minnesota is ready for business, for entrepreneurs, and for educational resources in the home. No matter what. This issue should unite lawmakers and local officials alike, regardless of party or faction.

Below is a list of the projects, as provided by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, the Dayton Administration’s point person on broadband:

Northeast

  • Mediacom, Fayal Township – $263,345. This project will serve 167 unserved households, 3 unserved businesses and 92 underserved households in Fayal Township in St. Louis County. The township and Mediacom Minnesota LLC partnered to identify areas where broadband access should be made available. The total eligible project cost is $675,243, with a $411,898 local match.
  • Mediacom, Harris Township – $224,369. The project will serve 262 unserved households and 6 unserved businesses in Harris Township in Itasca County. The Mediacom Minnesota LLC project will support business development, health care and educational opportunities in the area. The total eligible project cost is $773,686, with a $549,317 local match.
  • Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative FTTP Project – $1.76 million. The project will serve 763 unserved households, 2 unserved businesses, 2 unserved community anchor institutions, 31 underserved households, and 2 underserved businesses in Aitkin County. The Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative and Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will partner to provide service levels that will enhance businesses, employment, health care and educational experiences in the region. The total eligible project cost is $3.5 million, with a $1.76 million local match.
  • Paul Bunyan Communications, Hubbard, Becker and Itasca Counties – $1.74 million. The project will serve 785 unserved households, 26 unserved businesses, two unserved community anchor institutions, 143 underserved households and two underserved businesses in north central Minnesota. Paul Bunyan will improve service levels to an estimated 2,750 people and nearly 50 small businesses. The total eligible project cost is $3.48 million, with a $1.74 million local match.

Northwest

  • CenturyLink, Thief River Middle Mile – $1.32 million. The project will serve 491 unserved households and 118 unserved businesses in an area from Thief River to Roseau. CenturyLink will provide improved services that will encourage business development and increase access to education and health care in the region. The total eligible project cost is $2.65 million, with $1.3 million local match.
  • Garden Valley Telephone Co., Rural Thief River Falls East – $2.03 million. The project will serve 330 unserved households, 23 unserved businesses and 2 community anchor institutions in rural Thief River Falls. Garden Valley Telephone will upgrade broadband services that will improve economic and community vitality in the region. The total eligible project cost is $4.2 million, with a $2.2 million local match.
  • Halstad Telephone Co., Kertsonville Area – $296,665. The project will serve 51 unserved households in Kertsonville and Onstad townships in Polk County. Halstad Telephone Co. will improve service levels that benefit farmers, home businesses and residents. The total eligible project cost is $593,330, with a $296,665 local match.
  • Sjoberg’s Inc., Roseau and Lake of the Woods Counties – $354,740. The project will serve 126 unserved households, 30 unserved businesses and one community anchor institution in several areas of Roseau and Lake of the Woods counties. The project will improve community well-being and encourage job growth and business expansion. The total eligible project cost is $709,481, with a $354,740 local match.
  • Wikstrom Telephone Co. (with Beamco Inc.), Rural Alvarado – $43,481. The project will serve 11 unserved households and 1 unserved business in the Alvarado area, in a remote part of Marshall County. The telephone company and Beamco Inc., a local engineering and manufacturing company, are partnering to improve services in the area. The project will enable Beamco to reach its suppliers and customers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and China. The total eligible project cost is $86,963, with a $43,482 local match.
  • Wikstrom Telephone Co., Wiktel NW MN – $950,823. This project will serve 236 unserved households and 26 unserved businesses in sparsely populated areas of Kittson, Marshall, Roseau and Lake of the Woods counties. The project will provide improved service that encourages job growth and business expansion in the region. The total eligible project cost is $2.11 million, with a $1.16 million local match.

West Central

  • Consolidated Telecommunications Co., Kandiyohi County – $4.94 million. The project will serve 1,439 unserved households, 149 unserved businesses and four community anchor institutions in the New London, Spicer and Willmar areas. Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will improve broadband service to advance community and economic development. The total eligible project cost is $9.87 million, with a $4.94 million local match.
  • Frontier, Kandiyohi Initiative – $1.02 million. The project will serve 1,147 unserved households, 7 unserved businesses and 7 unserved community anchor institutions in rural Kandiyohi County. Frontier will provide broadband services that will help businesses grow and will improve work-life balance for employees. The total eligible project cost is $2.03 million, with $1.01 million local match.
  • Gardonville Cooperative Telephone, Douglas County Lake Louise – $68,240. The project will serve 28 unserved households and 7 unserved businesses in the Lake Louise area. The Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association project will improve business development and help attract new residents and employees to the area. Total eligible project cost is $153,348, with a $85,108 local match.
  • Otter Tail Telcom, Battle Lake – $238,170. This project will serve 62 unserved households in the Clitherall and Battle Lake areas. Otter Tail Telecom will provide services that will improve telecommuting opportunities for workers, encourage residents to start businesses, and serve as a magnet for attracting new businesses. The total eligible project cost is $476,340, with a $238,170 local match.
  • Otter Tail Telcom, Fergus Falls Area – $279,271. The project will serve 79 unserved households near Elizabeth and in rural Fergus Falls. Otter Tail Telecom will provide services that will improve telecommuting opportunities for workers, encourage residents to start new businesses, and serve as a magnet for attracting new businesses. The total eligible project cost is $558,542, with $279,271 local match.
  • Runestone Telephone, Holmes City 2 – $700,674. The project will serve 267 unserved households and 32 unserved businesses in the Holmes City area in Douglas County. Runestone will build on its 2015 broadband grant project to expand further into the Holmes City area. Goals of the project include reducing the number of people leaving the area, reducing economic disparities and mitigating the digital divide. The total eligible project cost is $1.4 million, with a $700,674 local match.
  • West Central Telephone Association, Wadena Rural North – $718,850. The project will serve 174 unserved households, 13 unserved businesses and two community anchor institutions in Bluffton and Blowers townships in Otter Tail County and portions of Rockwood, Leaf River, North Germany and Wing River townships, including the community of Bluegrass, in Wadena County. The total eligible project cost is $1.5 million, with a $778,755 local match.

East Central

  • Albany Mutual Telephone Association, Big Watab Lake – $726,185. The project will serve 242 unserved households in the Big Watab Lake area in Stearns County. Albany Mutual will improve service for families that need high-speed broadband for school and work. The total eligible project cost is $1.45 million, with a $726,185 local match.
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Bock – $510,000. This project will serve 337 unserved households, 37 unserved businesses and 1 community anchor institution in Bock and portions of Hayland and Borgholm townships in Mille Lacs County and a portion of South Fork Township in Kanabec County. Benton Cooperative will provide services that will improve educational opportunities, telemedicine, telecommuting and business development. The total eligible project cost is $1.76 million, with a $1.25 million local match.
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Buckman – $276,230. The project will serve 130 unserved households, 17 unserved businesses and 1 community anchor institution in Buckman and sections of Buckman and Morrill townships in Morrison County. Benton Cooperative will provide services that will improve educational opportunities, telemedicine, telecommuting and business development. The total eligible project cost is $708,287, with a $432,057 local match.
  • Benton Cooperative Telephone Co., Ramey – $225,100. The project will serve 122 unserved households and 5 unserved businesses in rural Ramey. Benton Cooperative will provide services that will improve educational opportunities, telemedicine, telecommuting and business development. The total eligible project cost is $776,220, with a $551,120 local match.
  • Mediacom, Medina – $170,868. The project will serve 76 unserved households and 35 underserved households in rural western Hennepin County. Mediacom Minnesota LLC will make broadband improvements that support business development, health care and educational opportunities in the area. The total eligible project cost is $589,203, with a $418,335 local match.
  • Palmer Wireless, Big Lake Industrial Park – $90,988. The project will serve 17 underserved businesses and 1 underserved community anchor institution in the Big Lake Industrial Park. Palmer Wireless will improve services that will have a positive impact on the economic health of Big Lake and businesses in the park. The total eligible project cost is $211,600, with a $120,612 local match.
  • Palmer Wireless, Del Tone Road and St. Cloud Airport – $179,400. This project will serve 14 unserved businesses and 1 unserved community anchor institution on the east side of St. Cloud. Palmer Wireless will make improvements that will upgrade business connectivity in the Highway 10 corridor, increasing business development opportunities and customer access. The total eligible project cost is $460,000, with a $280,600 local match.
  • Sunrise Township (CenturyLink), Fiber to the Home – $1.07 million. This project will serve 584 unserved households, 10 unserved businesses and 2 community anchor institutions in rural Sunrise Township in Chisago County. The CenturyLink project will improve business, education, health care and telecommuting opportunities in the area. The total eligible project cost is $2.39 million, with a $1.31 million local match.
  • TDS Telecom, Cass and Crow Wing Counties – $3 million. This project will serve 3,459 unserved households, 62 unserved businesses and 4 community anchor institutions in Cass and Crow Wing counties, including Backus, Hackensack, Ideal Corners, Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Woman Lake. TDS Telecom (dba Arvig Telephone Co.) will provide improved services for 142 small enterprises that do not have access to high-speed internet. The total eligible project cost is $6 million, with a $3 million local match.

Southwest

  • Arvig-Redwood County Telephone, Middle Mile Fiber Extension – $27,998. This project will serve 15 unserved households and 20 unserved businesses near Morgan. Arvig–Redwood Telephone will improve service levels to this rural area, which is home to Minnesota’s annual FarmFest and relies on quality broadband service for precision agriculture applications and to monitor crops and livestock. The total eligible project cost is $62,218, with a $34,220 local match.
  • Granada Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), South Rural Granada – $157,920. This project will serve 26 unserved households and 14 unserved businesses in the rural Granada area in Martin County. Granada Telephone will provide advanced broadband services to farms and residences in the area. The total eligible project cost is $394,800, with a $236,880 local match.
  • Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co., Nobles County Broadband – $2.94 million. This project will serve 469 unserved households, 1,060 unserved businesses and 6 unserved community anchor institutions in Nobles County. Lismore Cooperative and other partners will provide services that improve opportunities for health care, education and telecommuting. The total eligible project cost is $5.89 million, with a $2.94 million local match.
  • Martin County (with Frontier), Rural Broadband Initiative – $1.68 million. This project will serve 1,784 unserved households, 51 unserved businesses and nine unserved community institutions in Martin County. Frontier Communications will partner with Martin County to provide services that will attract economic development and make businesses more competitive. The total eligible project cost is $3.5 million, with a $1.82 million local match.
  • Midco, Canby to Marshall Middle Mile and Last Mile in Porter-Taunton-Minneota-Ghent – $623,000. This project will serve 1,029 unserved households, 29 unserved businesses and 11 unserved community institutions in the communities of Porter, Taunton, Minneota, Ghent and Canby in Yellow Medicine and Lyon counties. Midco will improve service levels for 100 percent of the homes and businesses in those areas. The total eligible project costs are $1.6 million, with a $976,000 local match.
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Hanska – $200,397. This project will serve 14 unserved households and 32 unserved businesses in Lake Hanska Township in Brown County and Riverdale Township in Watonwan County. New Ulm Telephone will improve service levels in an area populated with farms and home-based businesses. The total eligible project cost is $445,326, with a $244,929 local match.
  • Renville County, Hiawatha Broadband Communications & RS Fiber – $807,966. This project will serve 193 unserved households, 99 unserved businesses and th3ree community anchor institutions in portions of Preston Lake, Boon Lake, Brookfield, Osceola, Kingman, Winfield, Crooks, Erickson, Sacred Heart (North), Emmet, Flora, Henryville, Norfolk, Birch Cooley, Camp and Cairo townships in Renville County. Hiawatha Broadband Communications and RS Fiber will provide improved services that officials hope will stimulate business and population growth. The total eligible project cost is $2.07 million, with a $1.26 million local match.
  • Woodstock Telephone, Westbrook – $412,391. This project will serve 368 unserved households, 29 unserved businesses and 7 unserved community anchor institutions in Westbrook in Cottonwood County. Woodstock will improve services that encourage business growth and more access to health care, education and telecommuting opportunities. The total eligible project cost is $916,424, with a $504,033 local match.

Southeast

  • Acentek, Rural Lanesboro Fiber Build – $1.78 million. This project will serve 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses and one community anchor institution in the rural Lanesboro area, including Whalan, Carrolton Township and Holt Township. The project will affect 22 business buildings and provide telecommuting opportunities for employees of Rochester-based Mayo Clinic and IBM who live in the Lanesboro area. The total eligible project cost is $4.68 million, with a $2.9 million local match.
  • Blue Earth Valley Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Winnebago – $152,828. This project will serve 18 unserved households (including farms), 8 unserved businesses, 2 underserved households and three underserved businesses in rural Winnebago in Faribault County. Blue Earth Valley Telephone will improve services that will help livestock and grain farmers in the region. The total eligible project cost is $382,070, with a $229,242 local match.
  • Cannon Valley Telecom Inc. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Freeborn – $150,700. This project will serve 10 unserved households, six unserved businesses, nine underserved households and six underserved businesses in the rural Freeborn area in Freeborn County. The Cannon Valley Telecom project will improve access to health care and education. The total eligible project cost is $376,750, with a $226,050 local match.
  • Eckles Telephone Co. (dba BEVCOMM), Rural Heidelberg – $188,000. This project will serve 51 unserved households, seven unserved businesses, 40 underserved households and four underserved businesses in rural Heidelberg in Le Sueur County. Eckles Telephone Co. will build a network that will enable farmers to access applications and tools to make their operations more efficient and enhance crop production. The project also will improve access to health care and education. The total eligible project cost is $470,000, with a $282,000 local match.
  • KMTelecom, Rural Mantorville – $764,663. This project will serve 195 unserved households, nine unserved businesses and one unserved community anchor institution near Mantorville. The KMTelecom project will improve access to education and health care and encourage business development in the area. The total eligible project cost is $1.96 million, with a $1.2 million local match.
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Goodhue-Bellechester – $332,328. This project will serve 15 unserved households, 46 unserved businesses, 25 underserved households, 43 underserved businesses and 1 underserved community anchor institution in the area of Bellechester in Goodhue County. The New Ulm Telecom project will benefit farms, home-based businesses, telecommuters, a USDA office, Ag Partners, Goodhue school system, and several banking institutions and insurance companies. The total eligible project cost is $739,107, with a $406,779 local match.
  • New Ulm Telecom Inc., Mazeppa – $317,761. This project will serve 87 unserved households, 11 unserved businesses and 66 underserved households in Mazeppa Township in Wabasha County. New Ulm Telecom will improve services that will benefit farms, home-based businesses, telecommuters, a USDA office, Ag Partners, Mazeppa school system, and several banking institutions and insurance companies. The total eligible project cost is $706,135, with a $388,374 local match.
  • Winona County, Pickwick Area – $416,640. This project will serve 88 unserved households, 89 unserved businesses, 2 unserved community anchor institutions, 23 underserved households and 23 underserved businesses within Wilson, Homer, Richmond, Pleasant Hill and Wiscoy townships in Winona County. Hiawatha Broadband Communications will provide improved services for home businesses and telecommuters. The total eligible project cost is $868,000, with a $451,360 local match.

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