Wireless May Help to Answer Rural Minnesota’s Call for Internet

The $22 million price tag for a fiber optic network in Yellow Medicine County has some urging officials to consider a hybrid network to help tame the cost.

by Tom Cherveny, West Central Tribune / September 20, 2017
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(TNS) -- GRANITE FALLS — Now that Yellow Medicine County has discovered the high cost of developing a fiber optic network to serve its rural residents, a wireless provider based in the county is urging it to consider a hybrid model that would build on both technologies.

Wireless technology offers a viable and economical means to reach rural areas, where the demand for high speed internet service continues to grow, according to Dan Richter, president, and Pam Rosenau, marketing development, of MVTV Wireless.

A recent study estimated it would cost Yellow Medicine County $22 million to lay the fiber network needed to provide broadband services to 1,862 potential customers in rural areas of the county. The study prepared by Finley Engineering also offered a "hybrid'' system using both technologies at an estimated cost of $5 million to reach those customers.

MVTV will urge Yellow Medicine County to pursue the hybrid approach as a county-appointed task force looks at the county's options, said Richter. "Bottom line is is we want to be a part of it, support it,'' he said.

He believes neighboring counties — which are also looking at how they can improve broadband services to rural areas — should likewise consider a hybrid model.

Richter pointed out the economics of serving sparsely populated areas are challenging, even when state Border to Border grant funds are available to cover about one-half of the total. He noted that Kandiyohi County recently had to return its Border to Border grant funds when it was unable to sign up a sufficient number of potential customers in the northern part of the county for a proposed system.

The hybrid proposal in Yellow Medicine County calls for laying a 52-mile fiber optic line to serve as a backbone to connect a string of towers to cover the rural areas. That compares to the 955 miles of fiber optic cable needed for a fiber-only option.

During the past 18 years, MVTV has developed a wireless network providing internet service to customers in 26 counties in a roughly 70-mile radius of Granite Falls. Its focus is on serving rural customers.

According to Richter, 87 percent of MVTV's subscribers have a township address.

MVTV does not duplicate the DSL services now available in many communities throughout the 26,000 square mile area. "We're not trying to re-invent the wheel by providing another option for people who already have options,'' he said.

He and Rosenau also pointed out that providers in the region are improving internet speeds as economic conditions allow. The state's grant program has sped up that process in many cases, said Richter. He said there are also concerns that grant programs can be used by some providers to expand their service area at the expense of another.

But without a doubt, there remain rural areas in our region where the existing infrastructure is not meeting the needs. Whether it is rural Meeker County or northern Kandiyohi County, Rosenau said MVTV is hearing from people who are looking for improved, and more economical service.

©2017 West Central Tribune (Willmar, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.