MARSHALL — Access to the Internet has become a big part of both business and everyday life. But while there are some areas of Lyon County that have access to broadband Internet, others are still underserved. One possibility to expand broadband access in the county could be to build a network of both fiberoptic cable and wireless broadband, according to a feasibility study presented to Lyon County commissioners on Tuesday.
This “hybrid” option would require a smaller fiber network, and cost much less than it would to expand fiber lines throughout the county, presenters said. Lyon County was one of six counties that joined together last year for a broadband feasibility study in the region. CCG Consulting and Finley Engineering were selected to look at possibilities for expanding broadband Internet in Chippewa, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone and Yellow Medicine counties.
Lyon County commissioners voted to join in on the study back in February 2017. At the time, Lyon County Board Chairman Paul Graupmann said it would be less costly if a joint study was conducted for all six participating counties. Lyon County’s share of the overall study costs would be about £41,000, Graupman said in February.
At Tuesday’s meeting, engineer Chris Konechne of Finley Engineering and Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting presented a draft version of the Lyon County study. Some areas of Lyon County already have broadband Internet access, including Marshall and Tracy, the study said. Parts of the county served by Woodstock Communications have fiber access, and Minnesota Valley Telephone had plans to build fiber lines, the study said.
In addition, Midcontinent Communications received a grant last year to improve broadband speeds in Taunton, Minneota and Ghent. The study looked at rural areas of Lyon County served by CenturyLink and Frontier Communications, including the communities of Green Valley, Cottonwood, Amiret and Florence. The study also looked at the possibility of building fiber lines in Balaton and Lynd.
The study looked at two main options for expanding broadband access in Lyon County. One would be to build buried a fiber network within the area of the study. However, that plan would require running fiber along 811 miles of streets and roads, the study said.
It would also be much more costly, Konechne and Dawson said. The second option the study looked at would be to bring fiber access to towns in the study area, and serve rural customers with wireless broadband. Dawson said one of the positive aspects of building a hybrid network was that it would bring fiber access to more people in Lyon County, while leaving infrastructure that could be expanded later.
“It’s sort of the first step to getting fiber everywhere,” Dawson said. In both options, the broadband network would include a 66-mile “backbone” of fiber line that could also accommodate future growth, the study said. The draft study also included costs of assets like fiber and wireless towers needed to launch the different plans, assuming the project would have a 70 percent customer penetration rate.
Asset costs for a fiber network in the rural study area were about £19.98 million, or £21.99 million if the cities of Lynd and Balaton were included. Asset costs for a hybrid network of fiber lines and wireless Internet were about £5.87 million, or £7.89 million if Lynd and Balaton were included. The all-fiber broadband option didn’t look financially viable, Dawson and Konechne said.
The draft study recommended the hybrid option of fiber lines and wireless broadband. It also recommended that Lyon County take steps like finding potential partners and grant possibilities for a broadband project, considering giving assistance to Internet service providers in the area, and considering providing some county funding for broadband. County commissioners voted to accept the draft study.
While dates haven’t been finalized, Graupmann said area public forums on broadband are being planned for this spring. Konechne said the public meetings will also be helpful for gathering information on what area residents’ needs are. Later at the meeting, commissioners also talked about the possibility of reaching out to townships in Lyon County about broadband needs and the study.
Commissioners said the county’s annual township meeting in March might be a good time to bring up the topic.
10 cities have announced partnerships with Calix to deploy municipal broadband networks. Two of those networks appear to be the direct result of the FCC s recent move on petitions brought by North Carolina and Tennessee1 to go around local laws and build networks.
Erwin, Tennessee will also double its fiber-to-the-home footprint in the coming months with plans to expand gigabit broadband and voice services throughout its electrical serving area within five years. The other cities in the announcement include a handful in Massachusetts Concord, Holyoke, Leverett, Shrewsbury, and Taunton. Each will be expanding existing networks.
Ownesboro, Kentucky will also be expanding OMUfibernet to include gigabit fiber-to-the-home services.
The city of Hudson, Ohio is launching a municipal gigabit service pilot and Wisconsin s Sun Prairie Utilities is now expanding its fiber infrastructure to provide high-speed internet services in a large subdivision of single family homes.
The announcements are significant given the coordinated ALEC-led attack on municipal broadband through a series of bills making their way through statehouses that are aimed at making it harder if not impossible to build out municipal networks. (Read our prior coverage on this here.3)