Many residents of rural Scott County have come to accept spotty internet access as a part of life.
However, over the past year, increasing reliance on the internet for work and school has created a real problem for these same residents.
”When we went into distance learning in the spring, our internet was complete junk,” Belle Plaine resident Nicole Koepp said. “With both my daughters doing distance learning and me trying to work from home, it seemed as if our internet was ‘out’ more than it was on. . . A lot of times, we would have to go to my parents’ house in town to get internet.”
Though there are several internet providers that serve Scott County, as of 2020 up to 40% of parts of the rural areas of the county did not have access to adequate broadband services, according to Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development.
The county recognized the existence of a gap and began working on a pilot program to help internet reach underserved areas using its existing regional fiber network.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, Scott County made the move to accelerate the program by entering into a private-public partnership with Netwave Broadband, a fixed-wireless company that now brings internet service options to the county.
To pay for the project, the county used a portion of its CARES funding along with contributions from the city of Jordan and Sand Creek and St. Lawrence Townships.
“When COVID-19 hit, rural families were hit particularly hard. Families found themselves trying to work from home and conduct business online all while their kids attempted to learn remotely, sometimes over the same poor dial up connection,” said Scott County Commissioner Barb Weckman Brekke. “In addition, some folks were attempting to meet with their health care providers over the internet, but they lacked the capability due to limited internet access and speeds. It was time to make an investment in infrastructure to help these families connect.”
Using CARES funding for the project ensured residents were able to have internet access within weeks rather than months, said Perry Mulcrone, a business communications manager for Scott County who manages their outside fiber and broadband assets.
“Over the years, most people in rural areas have become jaded about fixed wireless offerings, thinking that either the service is not available or its unreliable,” said Steve Herman, regional manager of Netwave Broadband. “By partnering with Scott County and leveraging their regional fiber network in response to COVID-19, we were able to quickly provide fixed-wireless and redundant internet service to Scott County residents in unserved and underserved areas.”
Effective and efficient
Through the public-private partnership, Netwave is offering a 25% discounted rate for monthly fees and installation.
Anyone who signs up during the Governor’s Emergency Peacetime Emergency is guaranteed a rate of $149 installation and a monthly cost of $49 per month or $59 per month if a router is needed.
Netwave has also lifted internet speed caps for customers during the peacetime emergency.
”Whatever your equipment is capable of getting is what you will get,” Herman said. “We don’t throttle anything.”
Through the recent deployment of Netwave Broadband, approximately 95% of the rural parts of Scott County now have access to broadband internet services, Mulcrone said.
“It shocks me how fast our speed is with Netwave,” Koepp said.
Herman said Netwave is working toward being able to cover the final 5%.
”(Reliable internet connection has) become a necessary service just like water or other utilities to your house,” Herman said.
For more information or to set up service for your home, you can visit netwavebroadband.net or call 952-209-0900.