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Enventis fiber optics is duplication, taxpayer waste

The article “Fiber Optic Network Moves through Brainerd - Part of Greater Minnesota Broadband Collaborative Project” from Sept. 20, has a wonderful feel to it. Fiber optics and bandwidth are being delivered to connect hundreds of multiple outstate communities and counties – and hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses. It all sounds great. But what the article fails to mention, and bureaucrats at the federal and state levels grossly overlooked when awarding grant funds, is that this network and bandwidth already exists.

Over the past several months, I’ve driven U.S. Highway 10 / State Highway 210 between Brainerd and Moorhead many times. Each time, as I witness the construction crews working and the orange conduit pipes sticking up out the ground everywhere, I’m simply amazed that this project is even happening and that the federal government is picking up the tab for 69 percent of it. It is a fact that there are already multiple fiber cables along 100 percent of this route from Brainerd to Moorhead. There are portions of this route where the new Enventis facility is the sixth fiber cable to be placed in the road ditch and there’s barely any room to place another cable. Federal funding is being given to duplicate facilities that are already in place.

This process reveals that businesses and taxpayers alike in Minnesota cannot count on the state to look out for their interests. The Minnesota Department of Commerce recommended this project for approval to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). This is no small item since the NTIA relied heavily on state government recommendations for its grant awards. In theory this makes sense. The states are much closer to the actual projects and should have a very good understanding of the merits of such projects. Unfortunately, when free money is flowing from the feds, the mentality of our state bureaucrats is to divert as much as possible their direction, regardless of the unintended consequences. Businesses that found a way to build their networks without federal grant money are now faced with competition from an entity that only had to pay for 31 percent of its network.

With transport capacity and fiber windows already available along the Brainerd-Moorhead route today through the networks of the independent telephone companies (as well as others), all of the services proposed to be offered by Enventis are already available. The independent telephone company networks can already provide 100 Mb/s, 1 Gb/s, or even 10 Gb/s ethernet network connectivity to any of the cities, towns, and community anchor institutions that Enventis proposes to reach with its Brainerd-Moorhead route.

Additionally, the independent telephone company networks extend well beyond the Brainerd-Moorhead corridor. The multitude of rural communities that lie off this single main route are also already connected with fiber. These communities that are “off the beaten path” already have access to the same high bandwidth middle-mile services that Enventis proposes to offer solely along the Brainerd-Moorhead route.

In my career as a professional engineer in the telecommunications industry, I’ve worked with many independent telecommunications companies that serve rural areas in greater Minnesota. Most of these companies have been in existence for over 50 years with a mission of bringing telecommunications services to their areas because no one else would. These companies have invested heavily in constructing and operating their own fiber networks to ensure their subscribers and communities have access to the best possible last-mile and middle-mile broadband services available.

How many jobs are lost over time by local companies that can’t compete against a network that was built with 69 percent federal grant money, equating to $16.3 Million? There ought to be no celebration for this taxpayer funded unnecessary project.

Jason Dale is the CEO of Cooperative Network Services, LLC, headquartered in Menahga, Minn. Cooperative Network Services (or “CNS”) is owned by 20 rural cooperative telephone companies, mostly in Minnesota.