Building Farm Infrastructure Using the Internet

One rural area takes matters in its own hands to develop high-speed internet service.

By Richard Banks

In 2012, several communities in southern Minnesota decided they’d had enough … or, more accurately, not enough. It was then that some 17 townships and 10 cities in this rural area began work on an ambitious plan to build its own high-speed Internet network.

Including both wireless and fiber-optic service over a 700-plus-square-mile area, the new entity decided to take the form of a customer-owned co-op with the potential to serve 6,200 households, farms and other businesses. Named RS Fiber for the two main counties it serves—Renville and Sibley—the project is expected to cost approximately $45 million, with Internet speeds ranging from 50 Mbps to 1,000 Mbps on the fiber network.

According to Toby Brummer, the co-op’s general manager, RS Fiber was created because of the difficulty in getting reliable, fast broadband service installed in the area. “Basically,” Brummer says, “it was just a grassroots effort that started with a few people that wanted better for their communities.”

This rural area worked on an ambitious plan to build a high-speed Internet network.

This rural area
worked on an ambitious plan to build a high-speed Internet network.

Brummer believes RS Fiber is the first network of its kind. Yet, he says the model can be replicated by other rural communities where broadband access is typically much less common than in metropolitan areas.

“It’s not a project that happens overnight,” he says, noting the roots of the effort actually go back seven years and involved more than 100 informational meetings. “But with a core group of dedicated people, it can happen just about anywhere.”

As of fall 2016, RS Fiber had some 700 customers, and Brummer believes it’s well on its way to meeting financial goals. To learn more, see rsfiber.coop.