County up again for broadband moneyThe Lake County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution to apply a second time for a Rural Utilities Service grant and loan to go toward its broadband initiative.
The Lake County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday passed a resolution to apply a second time for a Rural Utilities Service grant and loan to go toward its broadband initiative.
It is now a $70 million project, up from $40 million. The reason for the increase is because of the larger area it will now cover, which includes parts of St. Louis County.
“It makes the project look stronger,” said Gary Fields of National Public Broadband, who is helping the county with the project.
Fields was neither optimistic nor pessimistic about whether the county will get funding, which has proved elusive in the past year. “They are avoiding startup projects.”
The county can look at different sources of funding if the Rural Utilities Service application falls apart. Among other options are using revenue bonds or somehow latching onto a possible Duluth fiber project which Fields is also heading.
The county had planned on going after funding in the second round so it could include parts of St. Louis County. The second chance of funding is more for “last-mile” projects like the one in Lake County, meaning service directly to homes. The first round was for building the basic network. The strength of the project could be improved in the second round because the addition of places like Duluth Township and areas around Ely will show a better chance of economic growth, board members said.
The Lake County project will not only include internet service but also high-speed wiring for televisions and phones. The fiber optics network would be paid for by the operational revenue it generates. No long-term debt is expected for taxpayers if the project is successful.
The Northeast Service Cooperative received news of funding from the Department of Agriculture this week. It received a loan for $21.7 million and a grant also worth $21.7 million. It will help bring broadband to rural areas in northeast Minnesota, which includes schools and libraries, but not to homes. The project could help with the counties emergency services management.
The cooperative serves 32 school districts and 79 cities, counties and other governmental agencies throughout the region.
Commissioner Paul Bergman said if cooperative lines come in before the county project is underway, it would mean a cost savings in not having to build the backbone of the system. The county envisions starting work next year while the cooperative’s plans in Lake County would take root in 2012.
Bergman was concerned Northeast Service Cooperative would run out of money before it gets to Lake County.
The board approved the purchase of three Ford Expeditions from Two Harbors Ford at a cost of $26,419 each, $200 more than the state bid. Sonju Superstore and Two Harbors Ford sent a letter this winter to the Lake County board stating they want the county to consider local businesses over the state discount pool. The county said it would buy local if the price was right.