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Pine County Board Questions LTD Broadband's Ability to Deliver on Promises

The Pine County Board of Commissioners has joined with others questioning the abilities of a small Nevada-based broadband provider tasked with developing broadband in a large chunk of the county.

LTD Broadband was one of ten companies to secure Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) dollars, taking home around 1.32 billion from the Federal Communications Commission.

According to documents presented during the meeting, the county is concerned that LTD's proposed solution of wireline connections does not take into account Pine County's topography, current infrastructure, or demographics.

"We believe that fiber to the home is the best long-term solution as it offers the best speeds and consistent service, but we know that in very rural, remote areas it is not feasible."

LTD is in charge of providing broadband to the areas highlighted in orange.

The company would be in charge of exclusively providing much of the county with broadband infrastructure, but the county is concerned with the company's abilities to deliver what they promised.

"LTD Broadband's small presence and unproven track record in anything approaching a project this large, causes us considerable concern," Economic Development Coordinator Lezlie Sauter wrote in a letter on behalf of the county.

"We understand LTD Broadband could have up to 10 years to fulfill its obligation under the FCC auction, all the while we may not use other federal or state funding in RDOF areas. Many of our residents will be locked out due to federal RDOF rules and despite the historic state and federal investment in broadband. We have recently issued a Request for Proposals to provide ARPA grants to providers so they can begin to work, but providers will not be willing to step into these areas until LTD is no longer in the picture."

County Board Chair Steve Hallan called LTD's actions prohibitive to other companies who want to work within the county.

"They have this umbrella hanging over Pine County that says we have the exclusive rights to build in these large areas of Pine County," Hallan said. "Any other carrier is not going to come in here because they can't get any grant funds."

Without access to those grant funds, Hallan says that other internet providers would not have a return on their investment if they were to install fiberoptic cables in the most rural parts of Pine County.

The letter sent by the county board to the PUC proposed these four solutions:

  • Challenge the FCC to require LTD (and all other successful) bidders to tangibly demonstrate the organizational capacity and capital to fulfill their obligations within the RDOF areas.

  • Give successful bidders an aggressive timeframe (we suggest end of 2022) to establish a viable plan to deliver fiber broadband or else relinquish areas awarded at auction.

  • Although we do not favor extending timeframes, another option would be to match the ARPA timeframes with RDOF (instead of a 2026 deadline to spend ARPA funding, extend the ARPA funding deadline to match RDOF).

  • Thinking "outside the box," one final solution could be to redirect RDOF funding to counties and allow them to bundle those dollars with ARPA funding. Local governments are in a far better position to work with local providers to build a complete broadband network. As our County map shows, RDOF areas are in some cases scattered, creating significant technical challenges for one company to build a coherent broadband network. With the results of our broadband assessment, we will know exactly where funds should be directed to improve access, connectivity, and speed.

The county isn't the only governing body questioning LTD's abilities. Other states and municipalities have taken steps to block the broadband provider.

Commissioner Terry Lovgren says that Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced a measure at the federal level to revoke LTD's funding as well.

These comments are part of a larger letter that the county board approved to send to the MN PUC in order to try and block LTD's RDOF dollars and potentially funnel them into local companies already working within the region.

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