CARES Act-Funded Installations
This year, the Le Sueur County has been able to secure participation by three providers to enhance internet service in the county using CARES Act funding. The work has established seven public Wi-Fi canopies with free access throughout the county, seven tower installations (on existing towers) to provide fixed wireless to homes/businesses in difficult geographic areas, one area of one township * that had not been included in the 2020 border to border grant and nine areas of fiber installation. *12 households in the village of St. Thomas, Derrynane Township
Not only are these CARES Act-funded projects by the county but most townships pitched in CARES Act dollars to enhance their reach. Overall, the total spent on these projects is approximately $1,033,216 of the $3.4 million of Le Sueur County CARES act funds.
To see individual projects please click on one of the links to the left in the blue bar.
A Citizen Task Force Started the Work
A broadband task force, supported by the Blandin Foundation in Le Sueur County, started work to improve broadband access. It became clear that most of the county was in dire need of any or better internet service. Because the telecommunications business is a complicated landscape, the route for improvement chosen was to negotiate with existing and new providers to bring enhanced service to residents and businesses.
Mapping Internet Availability
Here’s what the situation looked like at the start of 2020 in Le Sueur County.
Map thumbnail with link to larger version. Here we can see areas with the best service are in municipalities and along highways. The county is working to light up this map in green. Therefore, the county is focusing on the pink and purple areas of the map to find improvements in service.
For comparison, here is the 2020 Minnesota State Broadband map.
At first this was a hunt and peck sort of operation but as time went on the task force found ways to work with several providers who were willing and able to take action in the county. Some providers, on the other hand, are not willing to work with the task force. In other cases, territories prevent providers from participating in some areas.
Minnesota’s Border to Border Grant Program
Still, funding is and always will be an issue. One avenue of funding being pursued is the state’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program where telecommunications providers can apply for funding. Here the County can support applications by providers seeking funds to assist with projects. One provider was awarded grants in 2019 for projects in most of Derrynane and Lanesburg Townships and a few households in Montgomery and Lexington townships. The application for funding included matching funds from Le Sueur County and the townships involved; which greatly strengthened the application for the State of Minnesota funding.
Two more applications were submitted September 2020 for parts of Montgomery, Lexington, Kilkenny Cordova, Ottawa, Sharon, Kasota Townships by two providers for 2020.
The 2019 awards were built this summer and word about the 2020 applications is due in January or February of 2021.
CARES Act Funding Advanced Access
Overall, although the project was moving, it was moving slowly until the winter of 2020. Because of the incredible surge in demand for internet access due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county was able to make tremendous strides by taking advantage of federal CARES Act funding to help pay for a number of improvements with construction needed to be completed by December 2020.