By Joshua Schuetz
Faribault County, situated in southern Minnesota, is taking steps to bridge the digital divide by providing high-speed internet access to its residents. With the help of the Faribault County Economic Development Authority (EDA) and CEDA, the county aims to provide broadband access to 700 households and 100 businesses by the summer of 2023.
The initiative was made possible by a state program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The Faribault County EDA and CEDA collaborated to apply for a $2.8 million grant, which CEDA Regional Director Annie Nichols is currently administering. The primary objective of the project is to provide high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas of the county.
Nichols stated that the most significant challenge during the application process was navigating federal and state guidelines, both of which had to be met for the project to proceed. These guidelines included income restrictions, environmental regulations, and other requirements.
The county selected four communities – Bricelyn, Delavan, Elmore, and Frost – that met the state program’s income restrictions and worked with a local broadband provider to submit an application. In early 2022, the project was put out for bid, with Bevcomm, the county’s primary broadband provider, emerging as the sole applicant. The new connections will provide average speeds of 1000 megabits per second download and 500 megabits per second upload, a significant improvement over the previous 8 megabits per second download and 5 megabits per second upload speeds.
CEDA’s efforts to bring broadband to Faribault County will have a positive impact on telehealth, remote learning, and remote work. With the new infrastructure in place, entire families will be able to use their devices simultaneously for work or school, improving their quality of life. The program has already provided internet access to many underserved areas in the county, making it a significant success.
Nichols acknowledged that the county’s partnership with Bevcomm was critical to the success of the project, as the company already had designs and plans drawn up for it when the county applied for the program.
“We are fortunate to have a family-owned service provider in the community that already has plans to do this, and the plans were ideal for this grant program,” she said. “The project is on track to be completed by July of 2023, and it will have a significant positive impact on the communities that are part of it.”