Rural Todd County Embarks on Fiberband Feasibility in Minnesota

Todd County, a rural community "where the forest meets the prairie" along I-94 in the geographic center of Minnesota, is the latest of many counties to examine local solutions to their lack of affordable, fast, reliable, and certainly universal access to the Internet. This could be a blueprint for how to initiate a process to improve broadband in a rural community. Todd County is quite rural, with about 10,000 households and businesses that could be wired for service. From what I have learned, this initiative originated with a group of beef farmers who are tired of being left behind on the rural world wide wait. They pushed the Todd County Livestock Advisory Committee, which pushed on the County, which approved the following resolution [pdf]:
RESOLUTION OF SUPPORT TO ESTABLISH RECIPROCAL BROADBAND SERVICES COUNTY WIDE, KNOWN HEREAFTER AS TODD COUNTY FIBERBAND WHEREAS, the world’s cultural and economic environment is becoming increasingly more knowledge-driven and information-based, and Todd County citizens, businesses, and agriculture need access to that information, and; WHEREAS, research indicates that introduction of broadband in to rural areas increases the rate of job growth and income of rural areas and that the presence of broadband in a community is the greatest indicator of future economic success, and; WHEREAS, broadband access has evolved from a luxury and entertainment item to an essential infrastructure for business, health care, education and government and the speeds needed to maintain local and global competitiveness are greater than telecommunication companies serving Todd County are willing to provide, and; WHEREAS, demand exists for broadband access, but without a concerted and unified effort being made to obtain appropriate access for the citizens of Todd County, it is likely that demand will not be met, and; WHEREAS, this body wants its citizens to maintain the highest quality of life and its businesses to be as competitive and productive as possible, the highest speed, highest capacity broadband, and other telecommunications services are critical for maintaining a healthy and competitive community, and; WHEREAS, high speed, high capacity access to telecommunications services should be thought of as an essential public service that should be available to all citizens of Todd County, similar to the way the street and highway system is available to all citizens, and; WHEREAS, private sector providers are currently unwilling and/or unable to provide the highest speed, highest capacity access to broadband services to the citizens and businesses of Todd County via last mile fiber, wireless or other means. NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED,
  1. That this body supports any action to establish by any means legally available, a municipal telecommunications utility system county wide that provides the highest speed (reciprocal) internet, highest capacity access to broadband services, and;
  2. with the passage of this resolution this body supports efforts to bring reasonably priced, stable and accessible quality broadband access to all places in Todd County, and;
  3. that this body supports and adopts the following goals:
    1. All places within the city limits of a city within Todd County shall have fiber to the premise broadband services at a reasonable price no later than 2014, and;
    2. All places within Todd County, regardless of location, shall be able to access quality broadband services at speeds of no less than 20 mbps download, and 10 mbps upload by no later than 2016.
  4. That this effort will from this point forward be known as the “Todd County Fiberband Initiative”.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that all resolutions or parts of resolutions in conflict with the Resolution are hereby repealed to the extent of such conflict and that provisions of this Resolution are hereby declared to be separable and if any section, phrase or provision shall for any reason be declared to be invalid, such declaration shall not affect the validity of the remainder of the sections, phrases and provisions hereof.
Todd County Logo Note that they set goals and are prepared to build a network to meet them -- compare that to the state of Minnesota, which set hollow goals and identified no path to actually achieving them. This is one reason we prefer local governments more involved -- they are far more likely to actually get something done. Todd County's next step was to reach out to many in the community with the following letter as well as copies of a blank letter of support [pdf] and a clean copy of the resolution [pdf] for additional organizations to show their support.
On behalf of the Todd County Board of Commissioners, the Todd County Development Corporation, the Long Prairie Healthy Communities Partnership, the Todd County Healthy Communities Partnership and the Todd County Livestock Advisory Committee you and/or your organization are invited to sign on in support of the Todd County Fiberband Initiative.   Broadband is quickly becoming a necessary infrastructure, and its uses are growing beyond our local capacity.  The Todd County Board and other organizations feel strongly that the time is now to take this in to the hands of the community.  Todd County must come together as a community to stand up for our future.  Please join the Todd County Board of Commissioners and other organizations throughout Todd County in supporting deployment and availability of high speed, reciprocal broadband to be available throughout this area.  Also, please feel free to share this letter and resolution with any individual or entity you think may be interested.  Should you desire more information or an electronic copy of these enclosures, please contact: 
Staples Word, a local newspaper covered the impressive news and noted that Staples had already started its own feasibility study. Swanville, a nearby town straddling the county line, decided to wait on supporting the resolution to see what happened in following steps. On May 2, the Todd County Development Corporation officially joined the effort by passing a resolution in support of Fiberband. The first big meeting to discuss the idea came on May 12, with a meeting at the Long Prairie/Grey Eagle high school with 75-80 people in attendance for a panel and discussion. This is an impressive turnout considering the early stages and long drive for some attendees. The Independent News Herald offered an excellent recap of the meeting, including some of the comments from speakers: logo-blandin.png
He [Mark Birkholz of Arvig Communications Systems] also talked a little about the National Broadband Plan which entails delivering 100mg service to 100 million homes. “For the others, they say that 4 mg will be fast enough. Imagine walking along the freeway at 3 to 5 miles per hour as the cars on the freeway are zipping past you at 75 mph. That is what the 4 mg service would be like,” said Birkholz. Karl Samp from the Blandin Foundation also stopped in briefly to speak. He said that change was coming and that it is the only constant. “If you want to compete in this economy and have your kids come back, you have to have high speed,” he said.
Mark Erickson of Fiber to the Farm in Sibley County (which we have written about previously) spoke about their motivations and lessons learned. The meeting showed enough interest for the County to commit $20,000 to a feasibility study. Arvig, a potential private partner, has put up another $20,000 and the Blandin Foundation has put up a match of $40,000 to get the study rolling. Blandin's match support in other communities has been very helpful to communities who are reluctant to put too much money into a study that may tell them the network is too difficult and expensive to build.