Talks of potential broadband expansion in the southern portion of Mille Lacs County have taken place over the last month among county board members and county administration. The county is pursuing CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding for this expansion.
During a special meeting in late August, the County outlined a proposal to implement broadband infrastructure using the CARES Act funding available to counties and local government.
The proposal stated that Advantenon, a broadband wireless internet provider servicing Minnesota and South Dakota, will complete the building of towers that provide broadband internet service, beginning with the southern border of Mille Lac County and working northward. Coverage in the unserved and underserved areas would extend to an east/west line three miles north of Page to the southern border of the County.
Advantenon’s responsibilities would include confirming suitable tower locations for internet backbone connectivity and for hub and spoke antenna host sites, creating construction plans for all sites, installing and configuring network infrastructure to support Internet connectivity and inter-tower connectivity, installing end users (a residential, business, institutional, or government entity that uses services for its own purposes and does not resell such services to other entities) as time permits until Dec. 31, 2020, and installing end users as requested after Dec. 31, 2020.
The County’s responsibilities were outlined as assisting Advantenon in identifying antenna host sites in smaller towns, particularly when water towers are good candidate locations, identifying antenna hosting at suitable county-owned premises and assisting in permitting process for county permits.
Advantenon will utilize the feasibility study and a past State of Minnesota grant proposal, which has been denied twice for Mille Lacs County, to confirm tower locations within the southern portion of Mille Lacs County. Once tower locations have been confirmed, the towers will be utilized to install and configure end use connectivity.
The estimated project cost, which would include six completed towers and direct internet access, is $1 million. Individual Internet plans through Advantenon would range from $39 to $109 per month or a discounted year-in-advance rate.
Discussion was held during the regular county board meeting on Aug. 18. County Administrator Pat Oman said that the County has invested in internet studies and twice requested state funding but were denied both times.
“This may be the only option we have to get social distance learning in place for this county,” said Oman. “Schools have said they don’t have the mechanism or means to do it. We would get support from school districts. When we submitted before, we weren’t in this situation.” Oman also said there would be benefits for telemedicine.
Mille Lacs County Commissioner Genny Reynolds said, “We’re still showing that we are below average in internet speed. The amount of money they are going to be charging customers is what they’re willing to pay. One customer has three different providers and service is still spotty.”
Mike Wimmer, economic development manager for Mille Lacs County, said Advantenon does have a track record of timely implementation, and for the most part, people are very pleased.
“The company said they believe they can hit the timeline, but if there was an early freeze, it would slow it down,” said Wimmer.