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Rural Minnesota, Wisconsin continue fiber optic development

By Max Burkhalter
January 3, 2011
While privately funded developments from large companies, such as Google, have received the most attention, a wide variety of companies are developing fiber optic cable networks. According to BusinessNorth, companies in northern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin alone have received more than $150 million in federal grants and low-interest loans to build fiber optic networks in rural areas.

Chequamegon Telephone recently received a $15 million grant and a $15 million no-interest loan to build a fiber optic network for homes. The project is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and must be completed within three years.

There are fiber optic cable networks planned throughout the region. Superior, Wisconsin, was one of five communities to receive $32.3 million in federal grants to improve internet connectivity in underserved communities. More than $29 million will expand broadband connectivity for public safety agencies, healthcare providers, schools and community organizations in several communities in northern Wisconsin.

Minnesota is also receiving its fair share of federal funds. The federal government allocated more than $82 million in grants and loans to bring high-speed digital connectivity from St. Louis County to Canada, reports.

While these projects seem ambitious, CheqTel general manager Dave Carter says they are simply a response to public demands. “We get calls every day from real estate agents wanting to know if high-speed Internet is available in a specific house or cabin,” he said to BusinessNorth.

In addition to meeting residential needs, the improved connectivity should also help executives who stop in the area for a few days at a time and still need high-speed internet.

Once cables are built, CheqTel begins making installation agreements with property owners. “We may have to contact each customer up to 12 times,” Carter said to BusinessNorth. “We’re talking about investing many labor hours into each home. We’re going to be very busy.”

In addition to figuring out each project’s labor requirements, CheqTel must also adhere to a number of government stipulations. One of these orders is that the company has to install service, regardless of whether or not anyone buys it. CheqTel must also allow competitors access to its lines, although it may charge them for the service.

Minnesota also hopes to receive some fiber optic help from Google. The city of Duluth applied for Google’s fiber internet contest. The winning communities have not yet been announced.


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