High speed internet has already delivered, with more to come

Three years ago, 27 communities in our area united to take a bold step for the long-term vitality of our region and its residents.

After years of discussion, and the realization that only a strong public effort would bring high-speed internet technology to our rural communities, these cities and townships joined together to support the creation of RS Fiber Cooperative, opening an era of world-class communication and opportunity for families, schools and businesses.

Now wrapping up our third year of operation, RS Fiber is already delivering results.

We’re reaching current residents and businesses who need access to this essential service and, we’ve made our communities more attractive to those considering a rural setting for living and working.

To date, RS Fiber has:

• Helped bring a medical school, slated for opening in 2020, to Gaylord. Its leaders tell us high-speed internet was not only an attraction, it was a must. We know of several other businesses that have chosen to locate here or are considering it because we now have this essential service. And, existing area businesses are enjoying more efficient daily operations and saving money.

• Delivered high-speed Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) to residents of the 10 participating cities with the completion of Phase One earlier this year. And, while FTTH to 17 rural townships is part of the long-term vision for Phase Two, internet service is already dramatically better for farms and other rural locations. Today, 85 percent of RS Fiber’s service area has high-speed internet service access through Air Broadband, a system of antennas on water towers, grain elevators and other tall structures.

• Helped our students compete with their urban peers. No longer do our communities’ children need to leave home for homework locations with adequate internet service.

• Contributed to higher home values in our communities and helped put this area on the radar for those seeking a rural lifestyle.

• Most of all, working cooperatively, we’ve provided our communities with affordable high-level Internet, quality video and phone service – with no data caps – all with a price and service levels comparable to existing commercial providers. Together, we are the owners of a world-class telecommunications infrastructure that delivers for today’s residents, and can evolve to serve those of the next 60 years.

There’s no question we’re well on our way to fulfilling the vision created years back when we recognized that the traditional suppliers present in the area had little interest in making the investment in high-speed rural service. Without RS Fiber, thousands of rural residents would still be settling for slow technology and restricted opportunities. The FTTH network now installed in the 10 cities represented on the Joint Powers Board (JPB) has created much-needed competition to the telecom duopoly, reducing prices for all, while also forcing incumbents to update their old and aging networks.

Today, 2,200 area subscribers enjoy the tremendous benefits of RS Fiber. As we look to the future, we strongly encourage our friends and neighbors to sign up for this great service.

Bold ventures like RS Fiber naturally experience stumbling blocks. Our grandparents and great grandparents struggled to bring electricity and telephone service to rural homes in the 1930s and 40s. It wasn’t easy, but they persevered. The RS Fiber project faced many challenges during construction due to increased competition, additional labor, connectivity and network installation expenses, and higher cost of capital. It’s important to keep in mind that Phase One was designed to build capacity for future system needs.

We recognize our responsibility to the 10 cities who have been our strong partners, and to our fellow taxpayers who have already invested in this effort. We don’t take that lightly. RS Fiber is dedicated to establishing a fiber network that attracts new businesses with new jobs, positions our children to compete on a level playing field with children in Minnesota urban areas where access to high-speed internet is a given. RS Fiber remains united with the 10 JPB cities in achieving this mission.

The RS Fiber Board includes Kevin Lauwagie, chair; Jake Rieke, vice chair; Ruth Bauer, treasurer; Cindy Gerholz, secretary; Mark Brandt, Scott Blumhoefer, Mark Erickson, Mark Hodapp and Dave Trebelhorn.