Todd County votes to pursue broadband

Todd County commissioners took a step today toward building a fiber-to-the-home broadband system, voting unanimously to spend up to $20,000 to match a grant for a feasibility study.

Ground Level has been tracking the progress of the “Broadband 7,” a group of communities across the state either planning or building broadband networks. Todd County, northwest of the Twin Cities, has been considering a high-speed system for years, but only now has taken concrete action toward building one.

Spurred on by the Todd County Livestock Advisory Council, which argues that fast connection speeds are necessary to meet the demands of a global agriculture market, the county held a community meeting at Long Prairie High School last week.

Around 80 people from all walks of life attended, said County Administrator Nathan Burkett, who has advocated broadband as an economic development tool for years.

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“It was fewer than we wanted, but more than we expected,” noted Burkett, who said the idea of pursuing broadband received a favorable response. “Not everybody spoke, but those who did had some good questions.They seemed to understand and be in favor of accomplishing something.”

The meeting was enough to push county commissioners to take the next step and pursue a $40,000 feasibility study grant from the Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation.

Todd County also has support from the business sector. County officials have partnered with Arvig Communications Systems, which already provides service to a third of the county, to help determine if a countywide system is feasible. Arvig has committed $20,000, said Burkett, bringing total funds for the study to $80,000.

“We have a handshake agreement to get through the first phase,” he said. “Then we’ll see what the study shows us and what the business model will require to make it work.”

Stillwater-based consulting firm U-reka Broadband also will lend a hand. “We got lucky and stumbled across a couple of key players early,” said Burkett. “Some of the obstacles other projects have run into, maybe we won’t.”

That’s a reference to opposition from private telecommunications providers in locations that have pursued publicly owned and built broadband systems.

“Others who have done this with a private partner have made it through pretty well, without too much legal consternation,” Burkett said.

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