Lake County misses again on broadbandLake County’s plan to bring broadband Internet access to everyone in the area was rejected in the latest round of funding from the federal government.
Lake County’s plan to bring broadband Internet access to everyone in the area was rejected in the latest round of funding from the federal government.
There is still hope for the project in September, when the final round of funding for the project is announced.
“I don’t look at it as a rejection,” said Paul Bergman, Lake County commissioner. “There’s still money left. Somebody has to be the last project funded.”
Gary Fields of National Public Broadband – which is working with the county on the project – also holds out hope. “I think our chances are positive,” he said. Fields said he didn’t know where the project ranked as far as priority goes with the government because they don’t reveal any such lists.
Almost $24 million was given to Minnesota in the latest round of funding to Carver County, areas in Roseau and Thief River Falls, and to Eventis Telecom. Eventis plans to connect 70 community institutions in Minnesota with broadband. Carver’s goal is to connect schools, libraries and community colleges in its region while also constructing 121 miles of new fiber that could eventually lead to commercial broadband availability. The project in Roseau and Thief River Falls would help farmers, businesses and community institutions in that region.
The county broadband project is expected to cost $70 million and would bring service to every home in Lake and parts of St. Louis County currently served with electric service. The “last-mile” project, meaning service to homes from a central system, is what much of the federal money is tied to.
Service would include Internet service and also high-speed wiring for televisions and phones. The fiber optics network is expected to be paid off by the operational revenue it generates. No long-term debt is expected for taxpayers.
If the county’s hopes of funding are dashed, there are other options.
One option would be tagging along with the Google fiber project in Duluth, which is deemed as a long shot at best. Fields, who worked on Duluth’s Google application, thinks there’s a chance Lake County could latch on to the project.
Another option is municipal financing through revenue bonds.
According to a letter Fields sent to the county, municipal financing was not an option when the project began because the municipal bond markets were down from the market collapse in 2008. Now the municipal markets have rebounded and financing is an option, Fields said.
Interest rate changes in the future could have an impact on this type of financing, but it is unlikely the financial distress that happened in 2008 will recur, Fields said. Most of the costs of municipal financing would be paid out of a bond issue but there could be between $25,000 and $75,000 in finance charges.
A year from now, groundwork could begin for bringing broadband to many regional municipalities, eventually offering service to homes. The Northeast Service Cooperative is in the engineering phase of the project to bring broadband to agencies such as medical facilities, counties and schools throughout northeastern Minnesota.
The group received $43.5 million in federal funding for a project to expand broadband capabilities in eight counties and more than 221 key sites, with the potential to stimulate public-private partnerships long-term across the region. It would include nearly a quarter of Minnesota and would pass through St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca and Aitkin counties. The project could also provide a foundation for other companies who would like to bring broadband to private homes.
Gunflint owner shows frustration
Gunflint Lodge owner Bruce Kerfoot says there is one modern amenity that he absolutely needs to maintain a strong business: high-speed internet. Kerfoot told a summit Tuesday that it took him just two minutes to book a room online at a remote Swiss resort. But no one from Switzerland, or anywhere else, can book a room online at his nresort because the area does not have high-speed Internet, also known as broadband. Kerfoot, like officials in Lake County, said Cook County needs high-speed Internet service for every resident who wants it. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar hosted the meeting and told of not just an urban-rural technological split, but also different Internet development rates within rural Minnesota.