Counties uniting for broadband

Lyon County votes to join proposed feasibility study

MARSHALL — Access to high-speed Internet has become a hot topic for southwest Minnesota — because it’s something many residents still don’t have, especially in rural areas.

A group of six area counties is talking about ways to change that, however. On Tuesday, Lyon County commissioners voted to join in a proposed broadband feasibility study for Chippewa, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Pipestone and Yellow Medicine counties.

County Board chairman Paul Graupmann said the group of counties received a proposal for the study from Finley Engineering of Slayton.

“Several of us have met and discussed it,” and would like to move forward with the study, Graupmann said.

Finley Engineering and CCG Consulting are proposing to study three different possibilities for expanding broadband Internet in the region. The first possibility would be to build fiber lines out to underserved areas of each county. A less costly option could be to build a fiber-fed wireless network. The proposed study will also examine possible public/private partnerships.

The proposal said the study will compare costs for all three situations and look at ways to fund each.

Graupmann said separate studies could be conducted for each of the six counties individually, but there would be a discount if one joint study was conducted for all of them.

Lyon County’s share of the overall study costs would be about $41,000, Graupmann said. Additional funding for the study could come from a Blandin Foundation grant.

The Blandin Foundation, based out of Minnesota, has initiatives focused on developing broadband in rural Minnesota communities.

The foundation also offers Broadband Innovation Grants, which provide matching funds for projects to promote access, adoption and use of broadband technology.

Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg said Tuesday that some of the other counties in the group had already said “yes” to the study.

The Lincoln County Board voted in favor of the study, and in applying for grant funding, earlier Tuesday morning, he said.

The proposal met with a positive reaction from commissioners. They voted to move forward with the study, and an application for Blandin Foundation funding, through the Development Corporation.