RS Fiber Co-op Brings High-Tech Business to Laid-Back Lifestyles in Rural Minnesota

Minnesota’s RS Fiber Cooperative has brought gigabit connectivity to households and businesses in small, rural towns in Renville and Sibley Counties. Within the next few years, they plan to transition households beyond towns from their wireless access as they expand their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) footprint. A recent MinnPost article features how the network has attracted a different kind of venture to one of the small member towns — a 3D printing business.

Gibbon, Minnesota (pop. 750), is known for quiet streets, rather than the shiny futuristic landscapes one associates with high-tech entrepreneurs. The community, however, was exactly what Adam Stegeman was looking for when searching for a place to set up shop. He had been selling 3D printers for years and was ready to strike out on his own. The Stegeman Family wanted a small-town environment and, since much of Adam’s work requires transfer of data intensive 3D design files, a community that also had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity was a must. As one of the RS Fiber Co-op member towns, Gibbon met both requirements.

When MinnPost asked Stegeman about the presence of the network in Gibbon and its influence on his decision to settle there: “That was absolutely huge,” Stegeman said.

The Fabric of the Community

As we covered in our report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, more than 20 communities joined together to establish the broadband cooperative. Community leaders faced challenges along the way, but they pursued their vision. Through a strong sense of regional collaboration and a creative approach, the cooperative now offers better connectivity than is available in many urban areas. They’ve completed phase one, which connects each of the towns with FTTH and provides high-speed fixed wireless Internet access to premises in the extremely rural areas, such as the many local farms. Phase two should begin within the next two years.

Since publishing the report, the cooperative has attracted attention from numerous media outlets and been looked at as a possible model by other regions. Their approach has earned them awards because, in addition to solving the rural broadband problem in their area, member communities made the decision to connect premises beyond town limits. In other words, member towns wanted to be sure everyone has access to high-quality Internet access. As an agricultural region, they recognize the critical role farmers play in the overall economy in central Minnesota and they wanted to make every tool available to support success.

Stegeman told the MinnPost that his 3D printing business, Advocate3D, has already attracted farmers — several have stopped in to see if he could design machine parts. When it comes to exploring technological possibilities, Minnesota farmers don't hesitate.

Learn More

Check out our extensive coverage on the RS Fiber Co-op, including podcast episode 198, an interview with farmer Jake Rieke and Mark Erickson who headed up development of the network. Mark also visited with Christopher in episode 99 along with Co-op Vice-Chair Cindy Gerholz.