We shared a press release from Cloquet Valley last week on the progress of their plans for broadband – especially a recently completed feasibility study. Minnesota Public Radio spoke with John Schultz at U-reka Broadband who did the study. He offered a succinct list of broadband options for the folks in Northeast Minnesota…
First, phone companies Frontier and CenturyLink have the potential to improve their DSL offerings. Both are taking federal money from the new Connect America Fund aimed at just such households, although only CenturyLink is using any of the money in Minnesota. If this happens, expect the phone companies to provide pretty basic broadband service, maybe download speeds of 4 to 6 megabits per second, Schultz said. That’s how the FCC defines the very low end of broadband speeds.
Second, AT&T and Verizon both are eligible for a different pot of federal money, the Mobility Fund, available for wireless providers expanding their 3G and 4G networks. If this happens in the Cloquet Valley, the speeds would be better than DSL, Schultz said, but those providers put caps on how much data a customer can download in a month. So, fans of streaming movies, ration your use.
Third, Cooperative Light & Power, the electricity provider in Two Harbors, has in the past expressed some interest in fixed wireless (as opposed to the mobile wireless services of the big phone providers.) Both phone and electrical cooperatives elsewhere in Minnesota have been key players in improving broadband access.
Finally, there’s a new generation of satellite service. Keough just signed up for the Exede service and sounded pleased. It can deliver 8 to 12 megabits per second download speeds, and even Skype conversations are possible, she said. The problem with satellite service has been the communication delay, making interactive use difficult or impossible. The new service isn’t perfect on that score, but it’s better, both Keough and Schultz said.
JoAnne Johnson, who is also with U-reka Broadband and working on the project, offers slight update on the plans. Apparently only Tmobile has an ETC [eligible telecommunications carrier] designation in MN which is necessary to bid in the mobility auction. Verizon believes it does but the department disagrees, saying that the certificate is only for the acquired areas of the former Midwest Wireless. So unfortunately that option is somewhat curbed.
While it’s interesting to know what’s happening in other areas, I include this mostly because I think it helps all communities consider their options for better broadband.