By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
A group of residents in Sibley and Renville counties has launched a grass-roots effort to improve Internet, television and phone service throughout the area.
“We don’t have a lot of options for rural Internet. We’re trying to create our own company to bring fiber optic to all of Sibley County,” said Peggy Soeffker, a member of the nonprofit RS Fiber (rsfiber.com) that has been soliciting public interest in the project.
The issue in Sibley County and a portion of neighboring Renville County is common to much of rural Minnesota — namely, a dearth of affordable and fast electronic media services, particularly high-speed Internet and digital television.
Soeffker, who farms with her husband in rural Sibley County, said the dish receiver they must use works fine in good weather but balks during heavy rain and snowstorms.
Meantime, her husband struggles with a lagging Internet speed of .6 megabits a second that falls short of meeting his business needs when he’s selling commodities.
Soeffker said conversion to fiber lines would provide a speed of 20 megabits a second.
Under the company’s plan, residents in participating locales would pay about $100 a month for fiber optic Internet, television and phone service. Soeffker said she now pays $108 a month for TV service alone.
She said pledge cards have been sent to residents to gauge their level of interest in the project and response has been encouraging.
The consumer-owned group would like to begin laying the underground fiber lines next summer.
“This is not a government program. It’s a grass-roots program. We’re not in it to make money,” Soeffker said.
According to the company website, fiber lines would connect to every home, farm, business and government office in all of Sibley County and in a rural area around Fairfax in Renville County.
The project would be paid for using a financing method such as a revenue bond, which is a long-term loan that depends solely on the revenues of the new business, with no tax support.