Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is now rolling out gigabit connectivity to local communities. Local leaders and network officials anticipate the upgrade will attract more jobs and more people to this rural area of the state:
"Jackson is very fortunate. This is something that a lot of people probably take for granted and don't realize how lucky we are in greater Minnesota to have high capacity access," said Jackson City Administrator Jennifer Bromeland.
"It's just been so vitally important, and to be able to offer that in the communities of our size is just something else. It's absolutely fabulous," SMBS General Manager Travis Thies said.
SMBS received $12.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to add to their own contributions, for the 181-mile fiber project in 2012. The publicly owned regional network serves the communities of Jackson, Bingham Lake, Heron Lake, Lakefield, Brewster, Wilder, Okabena, and Round Lake. Several of the communities in the consortium had been told by incumbent CenturyTel (now CenturyLink) they would never get upgrades faster than dial-up because the towns were just too small to justify investment from a national provider. Now all the communities collectively own the high-speed fiber-optic network.
Local businesses strongly supported the project and helped secure the ARRA funding with letters to the federal government expressing the need for better connectivity in the region. Municipal facilities were connected to the Internet via 1.5 Mbps connections that drained bandwidth for the rest of the community. Local healthcare facilities and nonprofits also stepped up to submit appeals to the federal government. Clearly, the entire region - and all sectors in it - needed better connectivity.
Things have changed since the communities took matters into their own hands.
"We have the fiber set up to many of our businesses and residents right now, so we have had this for a while and it's helping or businesses to meet their goals and just helping us to keep people in Jackson and attract people to want to move to Jackson," said Bromeland.
Better Broadband On The Prairie
In addition to bringing high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) access to people who used to depend on slow DSL, satellite, or dial-up, SMBS has helped improve mobile wireless in the region. Back in 2013, Christopher interviewed Windomnet’s Dan Olsen for episode 64 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, who described how both networks have brought jobs and other benefits to the region. You can also learn more from our 2014 report All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Expanding Fiber Internet Access.