Ceylon ready for broadband project
CEYLON– The Ceylon City Council has given Federated Broadband, a division of Federated Rural Electric Association (REA), approval to install fiber internet for the city’s residents. When the project is completed Ceylon will have some of the best internet access in Martin County.
Funding for fiber installation comes from a Community Development Block Grant worth nearly one million dollars from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which in turn was funded by the federal CARES Act. The grant money means residents who live within the city’s municipal boundary can receive free residential fiber installation.
“The average speed in Ceylon is about ten megabytes. The top speed that’s coming in will be one gig. Think about this; let’s look at a megabyte as one mile per hour. If you have a thousand megabytes that’s one gigabyte. Imagine going ten miles an hour, now you’re able to go a thousand miles an hour,” said Ceylon Mayor John Gibeau.
Right now Ceylon is lacking purpose built internet infrastructure. Residents rely primarily on signals sent through existing copper lines not designed for internet use or fixed point wireless receivers which typically have much higher bandwidth limits and costs. The new infrastructure utilizes dedicated fiber optics capable of transmitting more data more reliably at a lower cost for subscribers.
“Fiber optic communication, that’s as good as you can get. You can’t get any better than that. It’s a thirty year asset, it’s going to be around for a long time, it’s not going to degrade over time, (it has) very few restrictions, it’s expandable for more speeds, we call it the end all be all,” said Federated REA General Manager Scott Reimer.
Right now Federated Broadband’s most affordable residential package offers up to six megabytes per second for downloads and two megabytes per second for uploads at a cost of $50 a month. Their most expensive plan offers speeds as fast as 40 megabytes for downloads and 3 megabytes for uploads for $90 dollars a month.
Once fiber is installed in Ceylon, Federated Broadband will offer five tiers. The cheapest tier would provide 50 megabytes per second for both downloads and uploads for $60 a month, while their most expensive tier would provide a one gig for downloads and uploads for $140 a month.
These prices may be subject to change depending on fluctuating costs for construction and materials.
“As you might imagine this internet construction world is completely turned up on its ear. There’s so many people doing this … materials have literally doubled in price. We’re going to start off with those prices and we’re going to hold those prices as long as we possibly can. The current forecast shows that those prices will fit within the model, so we don’t anticipate making any changes to that, but there’s always a possibility,” said Reimer.
Even if rates change fiber installation will still provide more bandwidth per dollar spent on service.
“Let me put it this way, you’ll pay less for more,” said Reimer.
For Ceylon residents who want to learn more about residential fiber and sign up early, Federated Broadband will be having informational meetings about the service and the project at the Ceylon city park. The first meeting will be on August 2 with additional meetings scheduled for later in the month.
Gibeau said at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic students in Ceylon didn’t have reliable enough internet access to fully participate in school.
“The school superintendents from Martin County West and Fairmont contacted me (and said) we have students in the Ceylon area that cannot get good access to the internet. We’re talking (7-10) students who are basically two to three weeks behind on their homework always because they can’t get access to the internet,” said Gibeau.
Internet options in Ceylon are limited and Gibeau began looking into DEED grants which could fund broadband improvements. He contacted Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), a nonprofit organization for assistance with preparing a grant application.
The city council vote to approve approximately $4,700 for CEDA to submit a grant application on behalf of the city was split with Gibeau casting the tie-breaking vote. The application was submitted in July of 2021 and in August the city was awarded $983,105 for broadband improvement. After the grant was awarded the city began the process of planning its expansion and selecting a contractor to install the fiber optic system.
The city initially considered contracting with Federated Broadband or LTD Broadband, before selecting Federated.
“The bids were not necessarily based on pricing, it had to be for the grant amount, but it was more based on what they were going to bring as far as the service, how they were going to do it, and the parameters (of the proposal),” said Reimer.
The contract with Federated Broadband was approved by the city council on May 26. Right now Federated is in an environmental review process and hopes to begin construction in early fall. As of writing there are plans to finish fiber installation for some customers before the end of the year, but construction plans will stretch into next year.
“I think when all is said and done, it’s going to increase the educational outcomes for people in Ceylon. I think one of the other things it’ll also do is it’ll make Ceylon an attractive place for families to be. … After COVID so many people are telecommuting that this gives us an opportunity for people to come into Ceylon and continue the job they do anywhere in the world without interruption. Ceylon is a long ways from a lot of other towns, and there aren’t a lot of towns that can boast this kind of internet power when you’re trying to attract new people,” says Gibeau.
While Federated REA has been offering satellite internet plans since 2012, this year marks the beginning of operations on the ground and the beginning of widespread fiber installation. Earlier this year the co-op completed acquisition of Back 40 Wireless; a Jackson-based provider which primarily offered fixed point wireless service. Aside from a handful of fiber customers in Jackson County carried over from Back 40 Federated Broadband has exclusively offered fixed point wireless service.
While fiber internet has become increasingly available for residents of larger metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities or Rochester, for profit companies have not been matching this availability in rural communities due to high costs of installation and smaller populations of customers. While residential fiber is available in some parts of Martin County, it has yet to make its way to major cities Fairmont or Sherburn.
The city of Ceylon is in the process of applying for additional grants which would help cover fiber installation in businesses, and Federated Broadband is hoping to use funds from a USDA ReConnect Four grant.
“We’re currently in the under review stage for that grant, and if received that will basically finish out Martin County with broadband. There is a phase two to this,” said Reimer.