There’s an editorial in the Pioneer Press this week that strives to shine a light on broadband infrastructure plans in Ramsey County and St Paul. About a week ago the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that St Paul was looking at Ramsey’s fiber plan. The Pioneer Press article offers more information on the process of planning for fiber in Ramsey County…
After a request-for-proposal process, the county selected Minnesota Fiber Exchange to design, build and operate the fiber network. “MFE’s participation will create a new paradigm in the Ramsey County telecommunications marketplace with enhanced services and competition,” the company’s website says. “Ramsey County will be transformed from a fiber-starved environment to a place where fiber will be readily available and affordable for economic development.”
Maximum construction costs are $13.7 million if Ramsey County is the sole government entity in the project. No figures yet are available for a managed service contract with MFE for ongoing operational services.
Construction of the 120-mile fiber network of “rings” and lateral spokes could begin in the spring. Fiber optic cables are made with glass fibers and carry more information much faster than metal cables.
It also asks public to think about the project…
Citizens, and their elected officials, should be asking detailed questions about infrastructure, connections and costs — both to construct such a system and maintain it years into the future. Ultimately, it’s a conversation that should sharpen our thinking about what government should do, and what it shouldn’t.
It’s a discussion we join as skeptics, with a long-held preference for private-sector solutions.
The editorial seems to highlight two perspective personified by Andrea Casselton, St. Paul’s director of technology and communications and a team comprised of Emmett Coleman, Comcast’s vice president of government affairs and Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce.
People should understand, Casselton said, that here and elsewhere, counties are building networks for government use. “It’s not a new thing.”
The network also is a “piece of infrastructure we will need for a very long time. Fiber is stable and allows the city to plan ahead with a system that will “scale up” to future needs, she said. “We looked at the private market and weighed the options of doing for ourselves something we need long term. It’s like buying a house. At what point do you stop renting and start owning?”
And the team says…
But is owning-your-own really better? “There’s an unbelievable difference between building a road or investing in a parking ramp and owning a telecommunications system. And the chasm will only get wider,” Emmett Coleman, Comcast’s vice president of government affairs, told us. “The county is not taking that into consideration.”
In a letter to the county board, Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said the project “seems to be moving forward without a thorough cost-benefit analysis to determine if it is a wise investment of limited taxpayer resources.”
This is an argument that seems to be playing out in Lake County, Monticello and other communities across the country. It reminds me of the original Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report and National Broadband Plan; both promote public private partnerships. I can see now what a tall order that was and how valuable it would be.