Many Minnesotans engaged in promoting broadband as an essential infrastructure for economic vitality have been watching the Monticello community and their progress towards construction of a city-owned fiber optic network for the past two years or more. Regular readers of this blog would have seen many postings about Monticello about its community process, referendum and lawsuits.
This week, a letter from TDS, Monticello’s incumbent telephone company, was printed in the local paper providing their perspective in response to a letter submitted recently by the Monticello mayor. A small part of this letter refers to the Blandin Foundation’s involvement in Monticello through the Get Broadband grant program and that certainly caught our attention. Monticello did receive funding approval for this program and then subsequently withdrew their application.
Get Broadband was one of the first programs to be launched through the Blandin Broadband Initiative and its purpose was to boost demand for broadband services in rural communities across Minnesota. It was an early consensus of the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board that residents and businesses needed an education about the uses of broadband and that people who saw value in the service would be more willing to subscribe, thus improving the business case for whatever current or prospective providers were in the local marketplace. More than 25 communities actively participated in this program and the results, as measured by an independent evaluation, were very positive.
Blandin Foundation and its Strategy Board insisted that communities receiving these grants include all Internet providers in these market development efforts. Large or small, local or international, wired or wireless – we knew that different providers have certain advantages and disadvantages, whether that is based on technology, network coverage, pricing and/or customer service. In many of our participating communities, providers who were at first hesitant to sit at the same table with their competitors soon found that it was more profitable to compete over a larger pie as the community’s market development efforts paid off. The “meetings after the meeting” and the exchange of business cards hints that they may have also found opportunities to collaborate both within the community and in efforts to link customers across a broader region.
In its broadband principles, Blandin Broadband Strategy Board believes that competition, collaboration, public-private partnerships and a variety of technologies will be necessary to achieve our vision. Blandin Foundation Initiative supports private sector, public sector and joint venture investments in broadband infrastructure and services as we encourage creation of a world class environment for community and economic development in rural Minnesota.
Observers, especially the citizens of Monticello, will have to make their own judgments about the perspectives expressed in these articles by the incumbent provider and the Mayor. It is ironic that while many communities struggle to obtain FTTP-based advanced services, Monticello residents may have their choice of two fiber-based providers.