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January 18, 2012     Winthrop News
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January 18, 2012
 

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people Winthrop News Wednesday, January 18, 2o12 Page 3 Pettis to lead County Board in 2012 Fifth District Commissioner Harold Pettis of Gibbon was elect- ed chairperson of the Sibley County Board of Commissioners at its reorganizational meeting in January. Pettis replaced Bill Pinske of Arlington. Jim Swanson of Gaylord was elected vice-chairper- son. Pettis served as vice-chairper- son in 2011. Commissioners selected the Henderson Independent as the legal newspaper for 2012 at a rate of 47 per column inch. Bids were also received from the Arlington Enterprise at 74 per column inch and from the Fairfax Standard- Gazette at $7.26 per column inch. Last year the Independent was also the official paper with a bid of 75 per column inch. The Henderson Independent was awarded the first publication of the 2011 annual financial state- ment at a rate of $450. The second publication was awarded to the Arlington Enterprise at $140 ($70 per 1,000 copies). The County Board designated the Sibley County website for pub- lication of all transportation con- struction projects done by the Sibley County Public Works Office and the website will be used in place of any other required publi- cation. - Gaylord Hub WinterFest holds kickball tournament Travis Dreier, left, and Luke Trebelhorn, right, pose with the Gibbon Royalty, Miss Gibbon Alicia Evenson and Princess Kelly Becker, during the WinterFest kickbail tournament. Travis was one of many wearing a wacky hat for the tournament. , Photo by Nickie Sabo Relay for Life kicks off 2012 The Sibley County Relay for Life organization will have its big annual kick-off on Monday, January 23rd at the Gaylord library at 5:30 pm. We invite anyone who would like to be on a team or start a team. Start-up kits will be hand- ed out with a review of the materi- als. For those that plan to be at the 2012 event next June, the year's activities will be laid out with finalized details and those still in the works. Letters to the Editor City administrator responds to fiber-to-the-home letter appearing two weeks ago To The Editor: I would like to respond to the opinion article printed in the Winthrop News three weeks ago regarding the RS Fiber project. Tom Steward, a reporter for the Freedom Foundation, got nearly all the facts right but in my opinion skewed the tone of the article to reflect uncertain- ty and doubt on behalf of RS Fiber. Let me explain. In the first paragraph Mr. Steward wrote "Local officials promoting a sprawling fiber optic broadband net- work agree that the $63 million pro- posal could be a substantial risk for local taxpayers." When Winthrop Mayor Dave Trebelhom, Arlington City Councilman Curt Reetz and I met with Mr. Steward in December we repeatedly told him the risk to the communities and counties was small. First of all, cities and counties .will have a measure of responsibility for only about 7% of the total cost of the project. Second, because we will have pre-signups for at least 80% of the customer based required by the fourth year of operation, the risk associated with not meeting required revenue projections is not nearly as big as Seward suggests. While the total cost of the project may reflect a substantial amount of money, that's not the risk. He quoted me saying "It makes me nervous and not sleep at night. It's a lot of money." I did say those words but not in the context in which the quote was presented. Steward's quote makes it sound as though I lay awake at night worrying about the risk. I don't. I did tell him that I have awak- ened thinking about the project and how the risk could be lowered even further. In fact, since that interview the risk has been lowered further because the city councils of Lafayette, Brownton, Buffalo Lake and Stewart have voted to join the project. Why does adding those four towns lower the risk? Because the more density (towns) we have to offset the higher cost of the rural areas the lower the penetration rate required to break even. It is important to note that when we approached the four communities in December about joining the project we hoped the additional density would allow us to build to those areas of GFW and Sibley East school dis- tricts located in Nicollet and McLeod counties and not part .of the initial build. Unfortunately because of high- er fiber costs that probably won't hap- pen the first year of construction. In the next paragraph, he writes "officials promoting the venture have ruled out taking a big risk them- selves." That quote refers to a phone referendum (vote) for phone authority for cities to "operate a telephone exchange." When we first promoted the project nearly two yeats ago we believed we would needa referendum for phone authority. We have since learned that state law doesn't allow counties to participate in such a refer- endum so any effort to have a county- wide vote would have been costly and meaningless. And while I don't believe anyone involved in the RS Fiber project has indicated they are afraid of a vote on the project, I think the vote they envi- sion is a fifty percent plus one vote, not the 65% super majority required for phone authority. In my experience when voters are asked to decide a public matter the benchmark is fifty percent plus one. Years ago the phone industry successfully lobbied the 65% super majority to dissuade cities from getting into the telecommunications business even though state law has authorized municipal telephone com- panies for nearly 100 years. Former Winthrop Mayor Steve Johnson told Steward 'q can't think of an axea of government that has gone into a business setting and done well." Really? Let's look at some of the facts. In Minnesota the cities of Cross Lake and Barnesville have success- fully operated telephone companies for decades. Around the country, scores of successful telecommunica- tion operations have been started and successfully sustained by cities of all sizes. (Windom, MN; Lafayette, LA; Burlington, VT; Chattanooga, TN). Yes, there are examples of city tele- com efforts that have misfired but the overwhelming majority have been successful. Cities also successfully operate electric distribution compa- nies, do a good job of delivering water and sewer services as well as own and operate.liquor stores, And what about housing developments and airports? Is getting into the telecommunica- tion business a natural role for gov- ernment? No. But in the face of the indifference shown by phone and cable companies to become involved in a project that can bring needed technology tools to our area, I believe it becomes the role of local govern- ment, the folks who were elected to have the best interests of local resi- dents and businesses at heart, to take the necessary steps to ensure those tools become available. We asked the phones companies and Mediacom to build or help us build a fiber to the home network and no one rang the bell. We even said that under the right conditions we would be willing to put up the money for a network they could operate and even- tually own after the bonds are retired. Again, no one rang the bell. None of the cities and counties involved in the RS Fiber project has a great desire to own and operate a fiber to the home/farm/business network. But I think I can safely say that all of the cities and counties involved in RS Fiber believe having access to the amounts of bandwidth made available by a pure fiber network is a must have tool for rural Minnesotans to help meet the challenges of the 21st Century. If the private sector is unwilling and/or unable to provide that access then it becomes the role of government to get the job done. After Mr. Steward writes that 2,900 pledge cards falls "well short" of our goal of 4,000, (Nearly 75% is 'well short?'), Johnson characterizes the RS Fiber efforts of the past two years as the "sad part." "The sad part;' Johnson said, "is we've expended the time, effort and money on this when we could be concentrat- ing on making Winthrop better." Johnson is uninformed. The one constant we have heard from almost everyone at the nearly 100 public meetings we have held on this project is a fiber to the home/farm/business (FITH) network will bring tremen- dous benefit to everyone.. If Johnson had taken the time to learn what is going on today with fiber networks he would have found the world moving toward a future designed to deliver huge amounts of bandwidth to businesses and people because access to that bandwidth not only improves educational and health care opportunities, it improves the quality of life for senior citizens by giving them opportunities to stay in their homes longer, and spurs eco- nomic development by enhancing the personal and business lives of resi- dents and area businessmen and Ag producers. What could be more bene- ficial than that? In fact, the reason Winthrop Mayor Dave Trebelhom envisioned the project more than three years ago was to bring benefit to the city of Winthrop. Now we have an oppoau- nity to benefit the entire area. Winthrop Telephone Manager Danny Busche worries the RS Fiber project might put him out of business. I hope that doesn't happen. We spent more than a year meeting with Danny and the owner of Winthrop Telephone (who lives in Reno, NV) trying to convince them to either build or part- ner with us on a FVFH network, all to no avail. Mr. Steward wrote it is "ironic" city hall relies on Interact from Winthrop Telephone when. it appears we're trying to put them out of business. The fact is City Hall gets its Internet from Mediacom. But that's not the point. What IS ironic is Busche con- demns local government for wanting to get into the telecommunications business when nearly every telephone company in the country, including Winthrop Telephone, has for decades received government subsidies in the form of Universal Service Fund (USF) revenues. In fact the case could be made that nearly all telephone companies today are govemment sponsored business- es. Why? Because not only do phone companies like Winthrop Telephone receive billions in the form USF rev- enues, they have borrowed and con- tinue to borrow additional billions of dollars from the federal govemment at below market interest rates and favorable terms, all subsidized by you and me, the taxpayers. I'm not trying to bash the phone and cable companies. By and large they do a good job. But I am trying to point out the hypocrisy of their claim that local government is "unfairly" trying to compete with the private sector. Phone companies were created with the assistance of government and are subsidized today by government but government shouldn't be allowed to work to improve the lives of their constituents because that assistance is considered unfair? I don't buy it. RS Fiber will not use any govern- ment money beyond the initial match provided for the Blandin Foundation feasibility study grant. The money used to move the project forward today (about $180,000) will be paid back to the local units of govemment when the revenue bonds are sold. The money to build RS Fiber will come from investors across the country, not the taxpayers. The bottom line is RS Fiber was- n't conceived to put the phone or cable companies out of business. It's nO an anti-phone or anti-cable proj- ect. It's not for bigger govemment or smaller government. It's just a pro community and pro county project. Maybe RS Fiber is the realization that if no one else is willing to take the necessary steps to help ensure the future of our communities, then local governments should. The real truth about the risk of the RS Fiber Project is that it's relatively small. Not only do local and county governments have a measured obliga- tion for only 7% of the total cost of the project, the earliest they face that risk will be in the fourth year of operation. Starting with 80% of the customer base needed by that fourth year makes the risk of failure small. The real risk, in my opinion, is to do nothing. It will be years, if not decades, before CenturyLink, Frontier, Mediacom or Winthrop Telephone invest in a city and rural fiber network for our area. We should- n't have to wait that long when the opportunity is here today. We have challenges ahead of us if the RS Fiber project is to become a reality, the least of which is succumb- ing to fears that we shouldn't be the shapers and makers of our own col- lective destiny. Our ancestors answered that bell when they settled the area two centuries ago and their offspring answered the bell when electricity became a "must have tool" nearly 100 years ago. In my opinion, we need to do the same today. Mark Erickson Winthrop City Administrator and EDA Director Artists . Artists Artists Desi00rl our ZO/Z Csrackle Button to draw and are creative to submit enlries for our ZOIZ arackle Pags button. Thk d be 6er Pk sdl r  bM Fw. 3rd. Grackle Days 2010 I Game Shows Galore fntrf ma 9 be ltrrd in at IltldCom Ba.k or kl Public Ubrar 9 d rhank qoufrom the Gradde Cammiff Grackle Days 009 Dancing with the Stars Winthrop Opportunities requests the pleasure of your company at its Annual Meeting Monday, January 23rd at Tanker Bay Please join us for social hour, dinner and a program 6 p.m. Social Hour 6:30 Dinner (Provided for all members and their guest) 7:15 p.m. Program and business meeting. toe p(a,. o,,.,, lu,,00u] updates ,;e00tt If you would like to attend and are not a member, the cost of the meal is $10.00. Winthrop Opportunities has been promoting and investing in Winthrop for the past 46 years. Your input and membership in Winthrop Opportunities is valued and your presence at the Annual Meeting is requested. "P{e.,oxe P,.,.VP to, O.s  at G47-5010 o, 320-583-754 b Joa. 20 Stop planting errors. // Start reaping rewards. Skips and doubles. Wrong population. Too much down force. 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