WILLMAR — Nearly half of respondents to a broadband survey taken in Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships in Kandiyohi County said they would be willing to spend on average $61.47 a month for high-speed broadband service.
"There is a demand for high-speed broadband and people are willing to pay," said Connie Schmoll, business development manager with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.
The survey, completed by the EDC and Compass Consultants, was sent to every structure in the three townships, which asked the EDC for assistance following Schmoll's presentations at the annual township meetings last year, when she talked about broadband and increasing access in Kandiyohi County.
"We still don't have the ultimate high-speed broadband we need in the rural areas of the community," Schmoll said as she presented the survey findings to the Kandiyohi County Board during its March 3 meeting.
Out of the 1,139 surveys sent out, 365 were returned, a 30 percent return rate. One of the survey's goals was to find out how widespread high-speed broadband access is in the townships.
A structure considered those served would have access to broadband at speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload.
Underserved lack access to those higher speeds but it is possible to get access to the FCC minimum broadband speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. Unserved would lack access to even the minimum speeds.
Based on a map in Schmoll's presentation, nearly half of Dovre Township is considered served, while approximately the northeastern corner is underserved and the northwest corner is unserved. All of Mamre Township, or at least those who returned the survey, live or work in an underserved or unserved location. The same is true for most of St. Johns Township, expect for the area surrounding Pennock, which is considered served.
"What we have isn't sufficient," Schmoll said.
To reach those unserved and underserved structures in the three townships, Compass Consultants came up with a draft project which includes laying 115.77 miles of fiber cable to reach 438 subscribers. The estimated total cost would be $3,983,391. When the cost is broken down per subscriber, it would cost each property about $9,095.
Schmoll said if the project was able to receive a government grant that would cover half the cost, and the project developer would pay for another 15 percent, the individual cost for the infrastructure would be between $3,500 to $5,000.
"That is a little higher that what we calculated in the beginning, at $1,000 or $1,100 per subscriber," Schmoll admitted. "So, it is going to be iffy if they are going to decide to pass this in the townships."
Schmoll said the EDC has been educating the townships on the survey results and the potential costs for a broadband project. It will be up to each individual township to make a decision on whether to move forward.
"We want them to be informed before they actually vote," Schmoll said.
She will also be looking into other ways to bring project costs down. Schmoll requested the County Board think about contributing to a possible project.
"That would be my request to you today, to consider that," Schmoll said.
While there might be some concern with using tax money for an infrastructure project that only directly impacts a small portion of the county, that is not out of the ordinary.
"We could say the same things about roads," Commissioner Roger Imdieke said.
There was also talk about new ways to help pay for broadband projects, perhaps by implementing a revolving loan program similar to the one used for septic system installations. The overall message is the county knows what needs to be done and knows it will cost. However, without partnerships with other organizations, it makes it hard to move forward.
"Until we have good leadership from the state level, that works well with partnerships at the local level, it will be difficult to move these things ahead," Commissioner Harlan Madsen said.