Many counties and municipalities have found that building the infrastructure required by broadband technology can be very expensive in rural Minnesota.

Many counties and municipalities have found that building the infrastructure required by broadband technology can be very expensive in rural Minnesota.

While many companies are choosing to push fiber optic cable as their choice to deliver broadband services, one local company has opted to concentrate on wireless broadband to connect rural Minnesota to the 21st Century.

MVTV Wireless of Granite Falls has been quietly at the forefront in bringing fixed-point broad­band wireless Internet to a large area of central and southwestern Minnesota. MVTV is a nonprofit, member-owned cooperative based in Granite Falls.

Dan Richter, president of MVTV, has been with the company since it began on Jan. 30, 1960. At that time, the Granite Falls boys basketball team was headed to the state tournament and a small group of volunteers raised money to bring the televised event to Granite Falls.

Through their efforts, they brought the first six- channel television system to the community.

Richter takes a proactive stance on broadband and currently serves as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband.  

“I’ve known Mark Dayton for 40 years,” said Richter. “Five years ago I met with one of the governor’s aides at the  Governor’s Pheasant Opener and asked if I could speak to the governor,” he continued.

Richter asked the governor if he could be on the task force. After filling out the proper paperwork and going through a background check, he was appointed to the committee.

Richter also knew the late Senator Paul Well­stone. Before Wellstone became a senator, he urged Richter to get into broadband. Wellstone had the foresight to recognize that the future of the Internet was broadband, and Richter took Wellstone’s advice and began to learn about the technology.

In April of 1999, MVTV began providing high speed broadband wireless Internet service to the area. MVTV has been growing ever since.

Up until 2008, Richter was the company’s sole employee. Today MVTV has 29 full-time employees that provide quality service to over 6,000 customers throughout a 30,000 square mile area.

According to Richter, what sets MVTV apart from other companies is its affordability. He cited the high cost of installing fiber optic cable as a detriment to bringing broadband to rural areas.

“Fiber costs between $15,000 to $20,000 per mile. It doesn’t make financial sense to run fiber where there may only be a small number of people living in a section.” said Richter.

Wireless broadband has opened up other unlooked for opportunities for MVTV. For example, people were interested in having Internet connectivity at  campgrounds, and in the last three years MVTV worked with area counties  to bring the Internet to 14 area campgrounds.

The company has also brought wireless broadband to baseball fields, race tracks, and county fairs. Pam Rosenau, customer ser­vice and market de­veloper for MVTV, said, “The technology is evolving very quickly. We never thought 4-H would be live streaming from county fairs!”

MVTV also contracts with counties and cities to provide free public access WiFi hotspots. Nobles and Kandiyohi counties are two such counties that now deliver public WiFi to people who may not otherwise have Internet.

Existing structures are used whenever possible to mount equipment, which also helps keep costs low. Water towers and grain elevators are perfect locations for equipment.

MVTV technicians live throughout the area, and this also sets the company apart from its competitors. “If something goes down, we are able to respond quickly,” said Rosenau. Repairs can be made within hours or less, instead of days as may be the case with other companies.

MVTV is constantly working towards improving the quality and coverage of its services. In 2010, the company applied for and received funding from the American Recovery and Reinvest-ment Act. The $1.2 million half grant/half loan was used by MVTV to add 42 new access points to its system.

“We are currently working on a $1.8 million border-to-border Middle Mile Backhaul Project,” said Richter. “This project will add 59 enhanced 80-800 megahertz service spots to our rural areas,” he added.

The Backhaul Project increases the bandwidth of the signal which allows for more data to be carried. This in turn allows for increased access speeds.

So far, MVTV has completed 20 percent of the project, and under the terms of the matching grant  (in which MVTV invested $800,000) work must be completed by June 30, 2017.

In the last eight years, MVTV has added on average 48-50 new customers each month. Some months have seen between 75 and 100 new installations.

Richter is quick to credit his employees for the company’s success. “Good employees have made a big difference,” he said. “We treat our employees well, and they in turn treat our customers well.”

“MVTV wants to be part of the solution, not the problem,” said Richter. Wireless broadband combined with other technologies, will eventually meet the goals of universal broadband access to the rural areas of our state.

For more stories pick up this week’s paper or subscribe today!