The funding available for broadband deployment in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) could be what some small towns need to make fiber construction projects feasible that previously were not feasible, as news this week from Minnesota broadband provider Arvig illustrates.
We talked to Mark Birkholz, Arvig director of customer operations and southern markets, about the project the company is undertaking in Prinsburg, Minnesota with the help of ARPA funding and a public-private partnership.
“Like all things that are overnight successes, we worked on this for years,” said Birkholz.
Prinsburg is a small town with a population of about 500 in largely rural Kandiyohi County. Arvig had discussed various projects with the county over the years.
“Some were close to being successful,” Birkholz said. “This one came through.”
Arvig’s history with the county meant that when ARPA funding was allocated to the county and the city, it made sense for Arvig to reconvene with decision makers.
The ARPA included $350 billion for a Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which allocated specific amounts of funding to states, counties and cities that could be used for a variety of purposes, including broadband deployments.
As Birkholz explained, Arvig determined what it would cost to bring fiber broadband to each of the 220 locations in Prinsburg and what portion of the cost Arvig could cover. Arvig’s fiber distribution network reaches to within a few miles of Prinsburg, which helped minimize the cost.
Nevertheless, there was a gap of $550,000.
The solution was to create a public private partnership to build the network. The county earmarked $330,000 of its ARPA funding to the project and Prinsburg contributed $45,000 from its ARPA allocation. In addition, the city contributed $175,000 through a bond.
Plans call for Arvig to begin construction in Prinsburg no later than August 2022 and to complete the project by the end of the year.
Residents who previously had only DSL internet from the incumbent publicly held provider will be able to get speeds up to 1 Gbps and businesses will be able to get service at 10 Gbps speeds. Customers also will be able to get OTT video, voice, home security and other offerings.
Arvig got its start as a rural telephone company decades ago and like other small telcos, it has shifted focus to emphasize broadband and has expanded operations to neighboring communities. The company’s headquarters is 45 minutes away from Prinsburg, enabling the company to easily service the new customers, Birkholz noted.
Birkholz expects to undertake more projects like the one planned for Prinsburg. He noted that one Minnesota community has an RFP out for a similar buildout. And with the state and local ARPA funding available, he expects to see more communities willing to use their funding to establish public private partnerships to obtain high-speed broadband.