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Fiber-optic group proposes $1.6M loop in Renville County

OLIVIA — A private cooperative planning a $42 million, fiber-optic broadband network is asking Renville County to consider adding a loop to the system.

For an estimated $1.6 million, Renville County could develop a “backbone” loop connecting government offices in Morton, Bird Island, Hector and Olivia to the proposed Renville-Sibley County network, according to Mark Erickson, Winthrop city administrator.

He unveiled the proposal to the Renville County Board of Commissioners at a meeting on Tuesday.

The Renville-Sibley fiber project is a venture by a private cooperative. It is currently working on $42 million in primary financing to develop the network in Sibley County and the four southeastern townships of Renville County, according to Erickson.

He said fiber-optic could be laid in public right of way along highways connecting the communities. The fiber network is already planned to reach the community of Fairfax in Renville County. The fiber line could be extended along the rights of way on portions of state Highway 19, and U.S. Highways 71 and 212 to provide “ultra-gigabyte’’ capacity to Olivia, Bird Island, Hector and Morton.

Along with access to the Internet, the network would offer a high-capacity, intranet system for all of those linking to the fiber.  

It would make possible telemedicine capabilities for the Renville County Hospital system, and provide high-speed capabilities for industries in Olivia, Erickson noted.

The broadband capabilities would represent important infrastructure for the county’s economic growth, according to Chris Hettig, executive director of the Renville County Economic Development Agency.

Erickson did not outline how the Renville County loop would be funded. In return for county investment, its public offices would be provided free access to the system, he noted.

Proponents of the Renville-Sibley fiber-optic system told the commissioners that the high-capacity system they want to develop is well beyond the level of service that wireless or satellite systems can now provide the rural area.

Representatives from the communities that could be added to the loop were present to hear the proposal. They said they have not discussed possible participation in funding the proposal.

County Commissioner Randy Kramer said he wanted to know whether there were other private ventures looking to provide high-capacity service in the area. He also noted that the $1.6 million estimate represented the cost to build the fiber-optic network loop only. It would require a much greater investment to extend that service to the customer base in the area proposed for the loop.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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