Vote would bring fiber-optic broadband access to Minn. farmsPublished 9:53am Tuesday, April 24, 2012 Updated 11:55am Tuesday, April 24, 2012
By Conrad Wilson
Minnesota Public Radio News
WINTHROP — Linda Kramer and her family grow corn, soy beans, even a little wheat on 1,100 acres in rural Sibley County.
But just like folks in urban Minnesota, Kramer wants to be connected to the modern world. For the privilege, she pays about $60 per month for Internet access that by today’s standards is archaic.
“My husband on the farm needs to send files,” she said. “He’ll throw them in an email, send it out, let it run overnight, come back in the morning and two-thirds of them haven’t gone through.”
Kramer is among many residents in central Minnesota and other rural parts of the state who grapple with less-than-modern Internet speeds. Some use dial-up connections.
She and her neighbors could see improved service if the Sibley County Commissioners vote today to join what could become a $70 million publicly owned broadband project. The vote would affect everything from school technology programs to the county’s multimillion-dollar agriculture industry.
For the last year, Kramer has volunteered to make a broadband project in Sibley and Renville counties come to fruition. So far, 10 cities are on board, and all indications are they will receive high-speed access.
But that still leaves about one-third of the county’s population without a fiber-optic connection.
“That’s a lot of us who need this to go through and we’ll be left behind,” Kramer said. “Because if the cities get this now it’s going to be very difficult to ever get it out to the rural areas in the future.”
Earlier this month, Sibley County commissioners were scheduled to vote on the project. But at the last minute they decided they wanted to see stronger support to ensure it was financially viable.
The decision shocked project supporters into action. Fearing that getting fiber-optic cables to area farms could be in jeopardy, volunteers redoubled their efforts.