GREENWOOD TWP- There may be no easy answers on how to get broadband internet service to Greenwood Township, but there will be some options if the township decides to move forward. The lack of decent …
GREENWOOD TWP- There may be no easy answers on how to get broadband internet service to Greenwood Township, but there will be some options if the township decides to move forward. The lack of decent internet service, let alone high-speed service, is seen as a major issue facing the township in the future, particularly as increasing numbers of residents and new arrivals seek to work from home.
The town board met with Joe Buttweiler, from broadband provider CTC, along with IRRRB staffer Whitney Ridlon and RAMS director Steve Giorgi, during a special meeting on June 15.
CTC did some preliminary engineering work in the township last year and came up with some preliminary figures on the cost to bring broadband to all road-access properties in the township. Total price tag: $6.3 million.
“You’ve done the survey, we’ve done the preliminary engineering,” said Buttweiler. “This is a common spot to hit a barrier.”
The barrier, of course, is money.
“How do we pay for it?” he asked.
Buttweiler said if a private entity could have funded the project, it would have already been completed.
“These projects require either local funding or outside grant funding from state or federal sources.”
But the awarding of Rural Digital Opportunity Funding (RDOF) has put a monkey-wrench into broadband project planning in the area, with the possible awarding of a huge amount of federal money to a small internet company with no experience putting in fiber optic-based systems, let alone doing projects nationwide.
“The problem is,” Buttweiler said, “nobody believes they can do what they said they would do. It costs too much.”
Currently the FCC is vetting the company, LTD Broadband, but there is no timeline for the process, and Buttweiler said he did not expect a decision until a new FCC commissioner is installed. LTD could possibly receive $312 million for projects throughout Minnesota, not just for this area.
While this is underway, most other state or federal grant programs are unwilling to fund projects in the RDOF area, which includes huge areas of St. Louis County.
Buttweiler said there are other options for bringing in broadband, but they would involve a major investment from the township, though that investment could be paid back by the provider over the course of several years.
CTC is a co-op, he said, and doesn’t have access to huge amounts of capital. In other areas they have done arrangements where the local governmental unit comes up with the capital costs up front, and then enters into a construction agreement with CTC who would then lease the fiber from the township, including responsibility for maintenance and operational costs. This agreement could include giving CTC the option to buy back the fiber network from the township, once the costs are paid off by their annual lease payments.
“We’ve done this before,” he said.
Another option would be to have CTC finance a smaller portion of the project up front, possibly bringing in other partners and grant dollars, along with funding from the township.
Greenwood has applied for $110,000 in federal funding, which isn’t tied to RDOF. There is also funding available from the IRRRB that could be accessed. Whitney Ridlon, who works on broadband issues for the IRRR, said they have $2 million for local matches for broadband projects, but would probably only award up to $750,000, or up to 25 percent of a project’s cost.
“We want to be a partner and we want to help,” Ridlon said.
Steve Giorgi, who has been leading the regional effort through the RAMS group, said they are also putting pressure on St. Louis County to use some of the federal rescue plan money for broadband grants. Currently, Giorgi said, the county only seems interested in funding studies about broadband, something he said has already been done and isn’t needed.
Giorgi also said there are investment groups that are looking to fund broadband projects at reasonable interest rates.
The township could also work with a company that sells government bonds, and Chairman Mike Ralston said he had already contacted someone from a Duluth-area firm that handles this type of bonding to see what options would be available for the township if they decide to move forward.
“They would develop a plan and then reach out to financial institutions to develop a loan that could be paid back over 20 years.”
The meeting was purely informational, and no board action was taken.
How you can help
• Greenwood residents are encouraged to complete a survey on the CTC website, to indicate any interest in broadband internet service. CTC also offers television and telephone service in bundled packages. CTC is currently adding broadband service in Cherry Township (rural Hibbing), and offering broadband-speed service at approximately $60/month.
Anyone with an address in Greenwood Township is asked to fill out the survey at https://join.connectctc.com/front_end/zones.
• The township’s broadband committee is also looking for volunteers willing to go door-to-door in their neighborhoods to do an in-person survey. To volunteer or for more information contact Sue Drobac at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Barbara Lofquist at email@example.com.
• Talk to your county commissioner about the importance of funding local broadband projects, and to your state representative and senator about securing additional dollars for state broadband matching grant programs. Also, talk to your state representative about changing the rules to allow utility poles to carry both electrical service and fiber optics. Current rules mandate a large space separation between the two, meaning that new larger poles would need to be installed to use this method to bring fiber optic cable closer to homes.
CTC was formed in 1950 as a rural telephone cooperative. Today, CTC continues to set the standard in telecommunications for the Brainerd Lakes area and beyond, with new projects bringing service to many areas in northeastern Minnesota including Ely, Tower, and the Bois Forte Reservation. As rural communities rely on higher speeds and more reliable internet services for communication, entertainment, and conducting business, CTC remains committed to current and future demands. As a cooperative, CTC is owned by its members.
CTC currently serves some governmental customers in Tower, including the city of Tower, Hoodoo Point Campground, and the Vermilion Country School..