Who gets internet?

Internet providers seek state funding for Douglas County neighborhoods



Four companies have applied for state grants to expand internet access next year in Douglas County, according to records made public last week.

Arvig, Charter, Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association and Runestone Telecom Association are all seeking some of the $20 million the Minnesota Legislature approved this year to help expand high-quality internet access throughout the state.

“Hopefully we get something for Douglas County,” said Kent Hedstrom, manager of Runestone. “They like to disperse these geographically. I’ve got a feeling not everybody’s going to win in this area that’s applied.”

In much of rural Minnesota, frustrated internet users pin their hopes on these Border-to-Border grants. They are intended to help internet providers extend their network to places that are too sparsely populated and hard to reach to make sense financially.

However, the amount of requested grants vastly outweighs the money available.The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, which distributes the grants, received 80 applications with requests totalling nearly $70 million, said spokesman Shane Delaney. That is the largest number of grant applications the program has ever received for a grant round, he said.

How providers decided

Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association has applied for six grants, responding to neighborhoods that organized and asked for service, said Executive Director Dave Wolf.

“The neighborhoods we selected were all unserved as far as the state map was concerned,” he said. “We had been reached out to by residents in those neighborhoods.”

A Lake Victoria neighborhood was particularly active, he said, with residents helping to organize their neighbors.

“It’s a grass roots thing, very effective, but we encourage that,” Wolf said.

Next year, Gardonville would like to run fiber to 600 homes, including 300 existing customers and 300 new customers, he said. Gardonville chose to break up its grant requests into six projects, hoping that if one grant gets turned down, another will win approval.

Meanwhile, Runestone applied for just one grant, but it covers a sizable chunk of turf south of Interstate 94.

“This is by far the biggest one that we’ve applied for,” Hedstrom said. Runestone’s first grant was for 100 locations and its second was for 400 locations. This one includes 965 locations.

“We kind of went where people called, and where people contacted us,” he said. “It doesn’t make much sense to do (Lake) Andrew and Forada and skip everybody in between. They’re just as important as everybody else.”

A closer look

Along Shadow Lane, near Lake Victoria, Luke Gronewold took a break from string trimming to share his frustration with trying to get decent internet access.

He and his wife moved into the neighborhood of well-maintained homes and neat yards last year, he said. They had one option for internet service: Century Link. Service was so bad, he said, that he had to use Twitter to get the company to respond to his request for service. When they were finally connected, he and his wife quickly realized that their connection speed was terribly slow.

“It’s supposed to be 10 megs, but it doesn’t ever get there,” he said. “My wife works in IT and for her to work from home is nearly impossible.”

This summer, a neighbor went around collecting forms to turn into Gardonville requesting service, he said. It worked, as Shadow Lane is now among the neighborhoods where Gardonville is seeking grant money. If approved, Shadow Lane could get fiber-optic cable in 2020.

Just north of Shadow Lane is another neighborhood along Kings Road and Castle Lane. Residents voice just as much frustration with their internet service, yet they are not on Gardonville’s grant application list. Its proposed project would bypass this neighborhood on its way to the lake homes along Maple Drive SE.

“It’s way slower than what’s needed nowadays,” said Tanner Ramsdell while fixing a headlight outside his mom’s mobile home. “She’s even gotten new equipment from Century Link, but it doesn’t seem to help.”

Residents here did not report any organized effort to gain better internet speeds. It can be difficult to figure out who, exactly, to approach for access.

Steve Jungwirth, a retired toolmaker who lives near Ramsdell’s mother, said he and his girlfriend signed a contract for satellite internet.

“Worst thing we ever did,” he said. “It stinks.”

Help might be on the way for their neighborhood even if they didn’t organize. Wolf said that the grant he has applied for would help set up the broad fiber-optic infrastructure, and additional neighborhoods could be tied in afterward.

Another neighborhood that organized also happened to be lake homes. The Krohnfeldt Drive area on Lake Miltona successfully petitioned to have Gardonville seek a grant on its behalf.

“Residents along Krohnfeldt Drive cannot even order basic landline voice service without problems,” Wolf said. “It can be quite challenging to even get a landline phone or Internet in the Krohnfeldt Drive neighborhood from a nationwide carrier.”

That neighborhood is close to Gardonville’s fiber facilities and gets the company closer to unserved territories so it can build without grant money, he said.

What’s next

Internet providers have until Friday, Oct. 18 to challenge the grant applications. If providers can provide evidence that they already serve the neighborhood at acceptably high speeds or that efforts are underway to do so, they can successfully block a grant application.

Once the challenges are over, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will rank the remaining applications.

The state will look at who would benefit from the projects. Are they areas that are underserved? Would they help institutions such as schools or medical clinics? Do the communities want the service?

Projects that receive state funding will then start work in the spring, with internet connections turned on by early fall.

Which neighborhoods?

It’s unlikely that all these projects would receive full funding from Minnesota’s Border-to-Border grant program. However, they outline the neighborhoods that internet providers in Douglas County want to reach. Every project listed here would provide internet speeds well above the state’s goals.

Charter

  • Along U.S. Highway 29 southwest of Carlos, including Maple Way and Maple Lane NE. It would provide speeds of 940 megabits per second download and 35 megabits per second upload.

Gardonville

  • South of the interstate on the north side of Lake Andrew

  • Between Lakes Darling and Ida, around Lake Charley

  • Southeast of Garfield, along Centennial Drive NW from N. Oaks Lane NW to County Road 22 NW

  • Inside the wishbone of Lake Victoria, along its eastern shoreline

  • Near the Minnesouri Club, along Krohnfeldt Drive on Lake Miltona

  • Around Lakes Mina and Latoka

  • Gardonville would provide speeds of one gigabit upload and one gigabit download.

Runestone

  • Just one grant, but it’s a biggie, looping a chunk of Douglas County south of I-94. Like Gardonville, it would provide one gigabit down and one gigabit up.

Arvig/Tekstar

  • It also wants grant money to install connections in Forada and around Maple Lake; it would provide speeds of one gigabit down and 100 megabits up.