Clearwater is located between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud on I-94. Many people recognize Clearwater as the shortcut over to Highway 10 on our way “up north.” The Clearwater Economic Development Authority applied for and received a technical assistance grant through Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Resources Program. They requested assistance in assessing their community’s telecommunications environment as they are unsure if their current services are meeting the current and future needs of their community.
Our first meeting was used to draw up a short term effort to do some basic groundwork. We needed an understanding of the supply and demand for broadband services. First, surveys should be sent to the three known providers – Frontier Communications, US Cable and CitEscape Wireless to better understand their current infrastructure and service offerings. We also wanted to know their future plans. I took the lead on this task.
We also developed a plan to survey the businesses belonging to the commercial club to understand their current broadband usage and satisfaction with their telecommunications service offerings. The Clearwater EDA and staff took responsibility for this activity.
We just had our second meeting earlier this week. Representatives from Frontier and CitEscape joined us at the meeting for individual discussions and both community and provider representatives learned a lot. We found out that Frontier Communications has upgraded its backbone connection to Clearwater and that DSL customers will now be enjoying 6 Mb DSL speeds, up from 2 Mb which was great news to learn (our committee’s first win!). We also learned from Frontier that Clearwater is on a bit of a network dead end, which is not so great from an economic development standpoint. While committee members did not recall any outages, it is still not the best situation, especially for attracting tech-sensitive firms. Frontier was very interested in the community’s comprehensive plan and future business development plans and was anxious to coordinate infrastructure development. Finally, Frontier advised the group that Frontier’s new infrastructure development was primarily fiber to the home.
CitEscape talked about their ability to reach rural customers with broadband services from their towers in the area. Their ability to serve customers depends on line of sight technology, especially as the distance from the tower increases. Clearwater has two water towers and one of those has no current telecommunications facilities on it. It seemed like a great match. CitEscape will be providing the city with a map of the prospective service coverage if a radio was placed on the water tower. CitEscape’s services offer some advantages, like symmetric service and as an affordable redundant connection.
For a second meeting on the telecommunication’s topic, the day offered several opportunities for progress. Our next steps will be to meet with US Cable and to complete the survey of the business community.