Rural Cooperative Breaks Ground For FTTH In Lanesboro, Minnesota

On September 22nd, Fillmore County and local telecommunications cooperative representatives participated in a groundbreaking event to mark the start of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the rural town of Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Fiber To The Unserved

Lanesboro is located in Fillmore County about 50 minutes southeast of Rochester. The small rural town covers 1.3 square miles with a population of 755. Forty-one percent of households in Fillmore County are “unserved” as defined by both the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development and the FCC, which defines “broadband” as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload. Fillmore County residents and businesses are one small group of a large segment of rural America without access to high-quality connectivity. The FCC reported in 2016 that 39 percent of rural residents don’t have access to broadband, but actual numbers are much higher because incumbent reported mapping tends to overstate the reality. 

Fortunately, rural cooperatives are picking up the slack where national incumbent ISPs are failing to deploy high-quality Internet infrastructure. Local telecommunications cooperative, AcenTek, will build the FTTH infrastructure. The network will connect 431 unserved households, 42 unserved businesses, and one community anchor institution (CAI) in the rural Lanesboro area, including Whalan, Carrolton Township, and Holt Township. The FTTH project is expected to reach speeds of 1 gigabit upload and download.

Funding FTTH

In January 2017, AcenTek received a $1.78 million grant from the Minnesota Border-to-Border Development Program administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The grant program is intended to provide state resources that help reduce the financial burden for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure into unserved and underserved areas. The grants can provide up to 50 percent of project development costs; the maximum grant amount is $5 million. During the 2017 Minnesota legislative session, $20 million in funds were allocated for the grant program.

According to DEED, Fillmore County has the lowest percentage of households with access to wireline broadband in southeast Minnesota. Fillmore County established the Fillmore County Broadband Alliance last year to “pursue universal county wide access to fiber optic connectivity.” 

In June 2017, the Fillmore County board formally established a Broadband Development Fund in the amount of $150,000. In addition to the state grant, Fillmore County will loan AcenTek $75,000 to be paid back over the next three years and the company will invest roughly $2.9 million of its own money. AcenTek estimates the Lanesboro FTTH project at around $4.68 million.

According to AcenTek, the construction of the fiber network should be completed in 2018.