Minnesota Farming Areas Grow Their Own Broadband Internet

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farmHigh-speed internet hasn’t quite come to rural towns like Winthrop or Moltke Township in Minnesota….or has it?  Yes! Magazine reported that Winthrop, which has a population of 1,400, has been waiting at least seven years for corporate America to come to its town. Providers over the years have consistently been ranked as some of the country’s worst, with local schools, businesses and farmers left in the dust with poor connections.

Over in Moltke Township, population 330, connections were so bad that farmers reported to Yes! that they couldn’t upload business reports. The municipalities banded together and asked Gaylord, population 2,305, to join in, along with 25 more towns. They formed a “grassroots, member-owned cooperative spanning more than 700 square miles and four counties,” Yes! said. 

Without the use of federal funding and with the help of local leaders and volunteers, RS Fiber is in the first phase of bringing high-speed broadband to more than 6,000 rural homes. The aim is to be up and running by 2021. Yes! noted that the co-op is owned by the local customers with the help of investors. First up, 10 local governments “issued bonds that covered half of the approximately $16 million required for the project’s first phase,” the magazine said. More banks then came on board, with the total relying mostly on county and city bonds, not federal loans or grants. Yes! said the total project sums up to almost $45 million, with “local government partners [agreeing] to be repaid last if financial projections don’t pan out, making it easier to recruit secondary investors, such as community banks.”

High-speed access is becoming more critical in rural communities, with students needing internet to complete their homework, farmers using “smart” machinery, businesses heading up e-commerce operations and more. Yes! noted, however, that it is unclear if the co-op can or will offer service to low-income families in the named areas. Leaders are optimistic that they can make this happen, but other roadblocks could include rival ISPs lowering prices “to siphon away demand. If that happens, the venture could end up losing money, leaving taxpayers on the hook to repay government bonds,” Yes! reported.

When the project is complete, leaders hope that the RS Fiber network will match one gigabit speeds as found in larger cities.

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