WILLMAR—The Kandiyohi County Commissioners had an urgent message Tuesday for property owners in a Consolidated Telecommunications Co. broadband project zone: The clock is ticking.
Customer sign-ups reached 72 percent of the goal this week. But another 220 or so are needed before Consolidated Telecommunications can start construction of a fiber line poised to bring high-speed internet to rural north central Kandiyohi County.
The longer it takes to reach the sign-up goal, the greater the likelihood that construction won’t be finished before winter, said Commissioner Rollie Nissen.
He urged residents within the project area to commit soon. “We’ve got to get this piece done,” he said.
The $10 million project is one of three dozen to receive state grant money this year through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The border-to-border funds help fill gaps, mainly in rural Minnesota, that are too remote or sparsely populated to make it cost-effective for a private-sector provider to bring in the infrastructure.
The project will address a longstanding need for better broadband access in a rural neighborhood bounded by Willmar to the south, Spicer to the east and Sunburg and New London to the north. The project area includes about 1,400 households, 150 businesses and four community anchor institutions.
The project has support from the top levels of county leadership, where it’s seen as a vital advance for economic development.
But Consolidated Telecommunications needs 800 customers—half of the population base within the project area—to commit to receiving the service before going ahead with construction. The commitment also includes $25 in earnest money, to be applied against the first billing statement or refunded if the project is not built.
In the two months since the sign-up campaign began, there has been considerable progress. As recently as mid-April, customer recruitment hovered less than halfway to the goal.
The County Commissioners said Tuesday that the final 200 or so sign-ups need to happen sooner rather than later. And those who signed up but have not yet made the $25 earnest money payment need to do so soon.
At stake is a $4.9 million grant from the state and a need to demonstrate that the money is being spent for its intended purpose, said Roger Imdieke, chairman of the County Board.
There are plenty of other communities “waiting in the wings” for a slice of the grant money if the Kandiyohi County project does not go through, he said.
Kandiyohi County’s chances for future broadband projects funded by the state grant program also will plummet if the opportunity presented by this project slips away, the County Commissioners said.
Installation is free during the grant period, Imdieke pointed out. “If you don’t hook up now, it’s going to cost you more money in the future,” he said.
He also cited studies indicating a 6 percent increase in home values that have access to broadband.
The clock is ticking for the county’s own financial support of the project as well.
Kandiyohi County has agreed to issue $5 million in revenue bonds as the local share of the Consolidated Telecommunications project. Plans to sell the bonds in April were put on hold, however, due to the slower-than-expected pace of customer sign-ups.
Larry Kleindl, county administrator, said the county has until July to sell the bonds under their current rating. After that, a new rating study would have to be completed, at additional cost. Interest rates also could change, further raising the cost beyond initial estimates.
In the project area and interested in registering for fiber broadband? Fill out this form now.
West Central Tribune by Anne Polta