City happy with broadband network expansion
RED WING — After watching Port Authority executive director Myron White pace around the room prior to a news conference Wednesday, a local business man said he looked like he was about to have a baby.
In a way, he was.
After nearly a decade of dreaming and five years of planning, Hiawatha Broadband Communications announced that it would extend its broadband network north from Wabasha through Lake City and Red Wing.
It was a pleasant surprise for most of the community. A similar project was turned down for federal stimulus funding in January. The inability to secure federal funding was such a surprise that CNN made a stop to the area to get local reaction.
HBC CEO Gary Evans said his Winona-based company continued to pursue the project because of the "indefatigable spirit" of local leaders, particularly White. The director of the much-maligned Port Authority has been in weekly contact with Evans for more than four years trying to get the project approved.
Evans was urged to pursue the project during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., and the HBC board voted for it Friday.
"All of you just did not let up," Evans told a roomful of elected officials and business owners. "Our board finally concluded that HBC ought to be a part of it."
Construction on the project is expected to begin in August, with connectivity for government, educational and business facilities in Red Wing by November. Residents of Lake City and Red Wing will be able to join the fiber network "soon," Evans said.
"It's a huge first step in making those dreams a reality, but it's certainly not the whole project we want," Evans said.
The fiber network might eventually extend north into Dakota County, Evans said, though that's not in the current plans.
Red Wing officials have long clamored for better communication networks. Mayor John Howe pointed to this public/private partnership as the perfect way to accomplish that. Less than a week ago, the mayor's Blue Ribbon Panel made a recommendation to the same effect.
"Without having the fiber, that would be a hard thing to do," Howe said.
HBC completed its network from Winona to Wabasha in 2005, when it was one of Minnesota's first fiber-to-the-home projects.