Access to broadband a step closer for residents of rural area
APPLETON -- Folks living outside of Appleton are on the verge of being able to do what their neighbors living outside of smaller towns like Cerro Gordo or Chokio already take for granted.
They will be able to replace the scratch, screech and pings of dial-up Internet access with instant broadband access.
"Broadband levels the playing field for rural Minnesota,'' said Colleen Landkamer, state director of the United States Department of Agriculture Ru-ral Development. "It allows people living in rural Minnesota to compete globally.''
Landkamer spoke at a ceremony Monday in Appleton to an-nounce a $1.3 million grant of Recovery Act funds awarded by USDA Rural Development to the Federated Telephone Cooperative.
Federated Telephone and Farmers Mutual Telephone cooperatives provide telecommunication services to large portions of the rural areas in Swift, Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Stevens, Traverse and Pope counties.
The cooperatives provide fiber-based broadband service in virtually all of their service territories.
But there is a doughnut-like area of roughly 77 square miles around the city of Appleton where a low population density has made it uneconomical to lay the fiber for a terrestrial broadband network, according to Kevin Beyer, general manager for the two cooperatives.
The grant will make it possible to install 108 miles of underground fiber cable to serve the 152 residences and seven businesses located in the area, and provide broadband service at rates comparable to what other rural residences served by the cooperatives enjoy, explained Beyer.
The cooperatives' rural patrons in places like Cerro Gordo and Chokio have proven to be very enthusiastic adapters of broadband technology, for reasons that have everything to do with their rural addresses.
Beyer said rural people often connect to broadband services for economic reasons first of all. Farmers rely on broadband access for everything from marketing to link-ups to precision farming technology.
Rural families with school-age children often are quick to adopt broadband to allow their young students access to educational platforms.
Federated also serves a number of rural residents who use broadband to "telecommute'' to their jobs many miles away, said Beyer.
And like everyone else, rural patrons enjoy the opportunity to access news, entertainment, gaming and other services available on the Web. Beyer noted that Federated's existing system has just reached the point where about 50 percent of the gigabytes flowing on the system are for entertainment uses.
But work comes first in the countryside, and that is the very reason that rural resident Ken DeBuhr is looking forward to connecting his home to Federated's broadband service. DeBuhr is part of the agronomy team at the Western Consolidated Cooperative in Holloway, which serves farmers in a large swath of western Minnesota and part of eastern South Dakota.
DeBuhr said he relies on the broadband connection at the company's office for much of the work he does.
Having that same service at home will allow him to perform some of his work there, no small matter in today's agricultural economy. Markets change over night, and having access 24/7 is becoming increasingly important, he noted.
DeBuhr said it has also been frustrating to be accustomed to the speed and access that his broadband connection at the office offers, and then to come home and step back to low-speed and consequently limited service.
"When you're without it (broadband), you really feel like you're missing something. And you are,'' he said.
Beyer said Federated Telephone Cooperative intends to begin installing the system to the area around Appleton early next spring.