Lake County is getting some attention from the Minneapolis Star Tribune today: Broadband battle hits rural areas. We’ve highlighted the story here before; article outlines the main action…
So in 2010, when Lake County applied for federal stimulus funds to build a countywide network, it ran straight into a challenge from industry giant Mediacom and the Minnesota Cable Communications Association.
The conflict that ensued is part of a national struggle. Public officials and some of their constituents argue that rural broadband is like rural electrification: It’s a lifeline for small-town America that the free market will not extend.
“We’ve been ridiculously underserved in this area for years,” said Andy Fisher, who owns a Lake County bed-and-breakfast and a rural cross-country skiing lodge. The cable companies “are working in the interest of their profits. But if they’re not going to serve this area, what are we going to do?”
Cable and Internet providers argue that government-backed programs should run broadband only into unserved areas, not locations where private providers already operate. They have lobbied extensively to cut broadband initiatives from the federal budget.
It seems clear that the government should be permitted to serve areas that are unserved – and I think this is where the definitions become so important. I noted yesterday that Akamai is changing their definition of broadband and high broadband, which clearly makes a big difference between who is classified as served versus unserved. Also it brings us back the importance of the two-tiered National Broadband Goal – 100 Mbps to 100 million homes; 4 Mbps to the rest. (And that’s 4 Mbps downstream with only 1 Mbps up!) Why are some served at 25 times the speed of others?
Reliability is another factor in Northeast Minnesota…
On June 20, a fiber-optic line broke during flash flooding. For 13 hours, all land-line and cellphone service, including 911 as well as Internet, disappeared from much of Lake County.
It was the second big outage in about two years. Business and government leaders say it was a jarring reminder that they need a system like the one the county is putting in, with “redundant” lines to continue service when one line breaks.
I know from comments to past posts that some providers in the area were better able to handle the outage than others. But especially since this has happened twice in two years, it indicates reliability plays into the definition of served versus unserved. (Actually it should play into the definition anywhere – Lake County is just living example of why it matters.)