Good communications are a lifeline for people in rural Minnesota. But in many areas, Internet access lags behind the available technology.
Minnesota Valley Television Improvement's goal is to change all that, said MVTV president Dan Richter, and thanks a $1.4 million federal stimulus project awarded this spring, the non-profit will have an easier time bringing high-speed Internet service to southwest and south central Minnesota.
"We're kind of entering a new phase of the whole operation," Richter said. "We're continuing to grow our system, both capacity-wise and geographically."
MVTV is a non-profit dedicated to providing Internet access at the lowest possible cost to residences and businesses, Richter said. MVTV's current coverage area reaches from Benson in the north to Tracy in the south, and from Olivia west to the Minnesota border, but plans are in the works to expand the area north, south and west.
MVTV's expansion project one of a dozen rural broadband projects in eight states selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in late March to receive funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The 12 projects totaled $150 million with an additional $68.2 million to be provided in matching private investment funds.
MVTV received a $562,776 grant and a $562,776 loan. An additional $281,388 in private investment will also help the company build 34 additional access points for wireless broadband access. That translates to 34 communities that aren't served or are underserved for Internet access, Richter said.
In rural areas, Richter said, it can be difficult or expensive to run fiber optic cable lines for high-speed Internet. In many parts of southwest Minnesota, he said, "it's just dial-up." That means that using the Internet in your home or business ties up a phone line for slower service.
With the help of the federal money, Richter said MVTV would be able to expand coverage north of Benson, east as far as Gaylord, south into Murray, Cottonwood, Watonwan, Nobles and Jackson counties. Another part of the project would also bring wireless broadband Internet service to the Canby area.
Richter said wireless Internet bypasses some of the difficulties of bringing Internet service to rural areas, and provides faster service. A good Internet connection is becoming more and more of a necessity for rural education and businesses, so broadband is a boost for the economy.
"You no longer have to be on Main Street to provide a service," Richter said.
Richter said MVTV hopes to complete the broadband expansion within the next three years.
"We were very pleased to be selected," he said. "It's an innovative kind of program. The government knows we need to get Internet access to everyone in the U.S."