Push continues to enlist customers for Kandiyohi County broadband project
Consolidated Telecommunications Co. hopes to start construction of a fiber line this summer that would bring high-speed internet to 1,600 rural homes and businesses. It’s important for customers to sign up soon so the company can reach the goal it needs to make the project cost-effective, said Connie Schmoll, business development specialist with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
“We’re getting there,” she said. But the sooner people commit, the better, she said.
CTC will host four meetings this coming week to give prospective customers a chance to meet company representatives, hear about the project and sign up. The meetings are at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday and 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Lake Andrew Town Hall.
Consolidated Telecommunications Co. received a $4.9 million grant this year through a program by the Minnesota Office of Broadband Technology to bring high-speed internet to unserved and underserved neighborhoods in rural Minnesota. The grant money helps make it more cost-effective for private providers to extend services to areas that might otherwise be left behind because of their low population density or geographical remoteness. The CTC project, estimated at $10 million, will reach a neighborhood that is mostly unserved and in need of better access to the internet.
It’s costly to install a fiber network but essential to help homes and businesses catch up so they can be competitive, Schmoll said. People won’t move to rural Kandiyohi County if broadband availability continues to lag, she said. “Our world isn’t like it used to be. This is about economic development and our businesses. This is broadband for the future.”
CTC has said it wants to reach its goal of 800 initial sign-ups by the end of April. As of Friday afternoon, it was almost halfway to that goal.
Progress has been slower than supporters would like, however, prompting Kandiyohi County this week to postpone the sale of $5 million in tax abatement bonds to finance the local share of the project. County officials hope to go ahead with the sale soon but they said this week that the customer target must be met first.
“We won’t go forward, CTC won’t go forward, until we get (800 sign-ups),” said Larry Kleindl, county administrator. Consumer surveys, along with a countywide feasibility study conducted last year, show strong support for improved access to broadband in rural Kandiyohi County. A majority of survey respondents also said they were willing to subscribe.
Supporters of the project remain optimistic that Consolidated Telecommunications will meet its customer threshold soon and be able to start construction. Schmoll said she has been knocking on doors and spreading the word every way she can. “I highly believe we’re going to get there,” she said. Customers within the project area will receive free installation if they sign up during the initial deployment.