We’ve been tracking a fiber broadband project in Sibley and Renville Counties in southwestern Minnesota, interesting because it would be publicly owned and bring high-speed Internet to farms in the area. Now, the RS Fiber project has reached its do-or-die moment where the communities involved need to vote yes or no on whether to sell around $69 million in revenue bonds to build the network.
So far, there have been four votes. Three communities–Buffalo Lake, Winthrop and Renville County–have voted yes. The city of Arlington has voted no. Sibley County commissioners were supposed to vote yesterday, but instead opted to postpone a decision. Sibley County is the entity that would bring farms into the customer base. A no vote wouldn’t kill the project, said Mark Erickson, Winthrop city administrator and project champion, but it would make it more city-based.
“Sibley postponed and wanted more commitment cards and buy-in from the townships,” said Erickson, who interrupted a meeting with local township representatives this morning to talk with me. “I think we have a way forward.” The project’s success hinges on having enough customers to make the bond payments, but it’s hard to know how many customers the network will have before it’s built.
Erickson said the other communities that are part of RS Fiber–Fairfax, Gibbon, Gaylord, New Auburn, Green Isle, Stewart, Brownton and Lafayette–will vote by April 11th. “If by the end of April Sibley County isn’t in, we’ll proceed without the county,” he said. That would be a disappointment, but it could also have an upside. “We wouldn’t do the farms, which would make the business plan better, ” he said.