Moose Lake Wireless Expands

Last week, I was in Moose Lake last week talking to them about making improvements to the City web site and maybe using a blog as a decentralized community web site where deputized bloggers could post news and events from the City, library, Chamber and others. I’ve been so mired in technology policy lately that it was fun to talk about application.

Moose Lake is a Blandin Get Broadband community. They used funding to create a community web site. There’s a prison in Moose Lake, subsequently they are security-focused. On the current web site people can sign up to get community updates. It’s great for event promotion – but it is also a great way to spread info in case of an emergency.

Moose Lake also built a wireless network, which means it’s a great place to stop for lunch if you need to get online. The fun news is that they are very recently been extend the wireless access to Barnum, Kettle River, Sturgeon Lake and Willow river areas. The service is provided by Moose Lake Water and Light Commission as part of the Community Broadband Network.

They have fiber into the town and started installing wireless in 2000 and have been able to expand bit by bit. Now people can get access at speeds of 512Kbps for about $30 ($25 for seniors!) or 768Kbps for $50.

What I’d love to see in a year is that the demand was so great that they are looking to extend that fiber to the home – but for now I think they’ve come up with an affordable solution that meets the community needs and leaves the door open for great expansion – to new areas and perhaps new speeds.

TISP meeting on Municipal Telecom Regulation

TISP meeting on municpal referendum on telecommunications:

A statutory provision (237.19) in Minnesota requires a municipality to hold a public referendum which passes by 65% if it wants to construct a new telephone exchange to offer telephone service and a local exchange already exists. That provision has a checkered history in Minnesota where some referenda have failed, some have first failed and then succeeded while others have succeeded at first attempt. Critics argue a referendum requirement and especially the 65% approval level creates an unjustifiable barrier to entry and has a chilling effect on the emergence of competitive new broadband services, especially since telephone service has become part of a larger package of broadband services from most providers. Supporters argue it is useful to require specific community approval.

The panelists included Ann Higgins, Wally Wyspol, Steve Downer, Dan Olson.

Here are the notes:

Ann – hoped to eliminate voting requirement, now focusing on broadband.

Wally – NSP was the electric utility. They had telephone prior to 1915! Their goal was to make NSP unique. Lost election not war. Year ago, survey support was 70 percent.

Steve – Early adopters communities were members of MMUA. They found that even joint ventures difficult to pass legislatively.

Dan Olson from Windomnet. Reports of demise are incorrect. Right now tey’re so busy there’s a week wait for new installations.

Dennis nelson from Windomnet. They had two referendums; the first one got 50 percent vote. After Qwest bypassed Windom again, the second one passed with x percent.

Windom used revenue bonds only. Initial bookings exceeded finances. Business plan called for negative cash for 7 years.

The law – permission to put in a switch. Does it matter? In NSP’s case, this was not the issue. In Windom the attorneys said that vote must follow language. Legal definition has expanded beyond the switch to include the plant and service. Clear legal authority makes financing possible.

Windom noted that recruiting voters equals willing customers.

Unequal requirements for issuance of public sector debt. Business community does not vote locally.

There was discussion about linkages between referendum and marketing and presale.

There was discussion of incumbent and outside forces expenditures. Local advocates outspent at least 10 to 1. Opposition funded buses to the polling places.

NSP thought that they did a good job of community education and awareness. The first community meeting was 2003.

There are no current efforts to remove the 65 percent benchmark to pass a referendum. MMUA says change in law brings legal uncertainty. Predatory pricing needs to be restricted via law to protect start up operations.

Communities need to be aware of anti forces and plan for it.

Fear of GO bond issue by residents and its impact on property taxes even though GO cheaper than revenue bonds.

Local Intelligent Community in the works

Today the Star Tribune ran a nice article on Dakota Future and their plans to be one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities as judged by the Intelligent Community Forum within the next three years.

I’m excited to see my fellow BoB blogger, Bill Coleman, quoted in the article. Bill, who is also the executive director at Dakota Future, was instrumental in getting Robert Bell from the Intelligent Community Forum to speak at the 2008 Blandin Broadband conference. Robert spoke about what makes an intelligent community and how an intelligent community can make a difference.

The Intelligent Community Forum receives applications from potentially smart communities around the world. The application process is rigorous and competitive but I have faith in Dakota County. In the article, Bill says, “This is a way to pull everyone together, to get us on the same page with the same kind of priorities.”

Win, lose or draw, the application process sounds like a good impetus to focus. I don’t’ want to make the job any tougher for Dakota County – but I’d love to see more Minnesota communities get inspired to think big!

Minnesota Broadband Scenarios

There is much discussion about the accuracy of the Connected Nation maps and the legitimacy of the speed tests. When the legislature passed the funding for the mapping project, some of us joked that with 10 minutes and a napkin we could produce a pretty darn accurate map. We’d even share all of our data!

I also have doubts that the maps will spur providers to fill the broadband gaps. After all, the existing providers know exactly where they provide service and any competitor thinking about providing service can go to the city hall and hang around the coffee shop and get a pretty good idea where the gaps are.

I think that most of Minnesota can be categorized into a handful of scenarios based on location and their incumbent providers. I have taken an initial shot at outlining these scenarios herematrix. If you have comments, suggestions and additions, I would love to hear them and might incorporate them into the grid. If I was more graphically inclined, these scenarios could be easily illustrated using real communities or composite creations of our own naming. I would be very interested in working with anyone who is a mapping guru on this. Could be lots of fun and we could name these composite towns after our favorite children, politicians, pets or rock bands.

FTTH – Not in North St Paul

The results are in on the fiber vote in North St Paul. The question was:

“Shall the City of North St. Paul be authorized to construct a telephone exchange as part of a municipal fiber optic network and to issue not to exceed $18.5 million general obligation bonds to finance the construction and equipping of the network?”

The results are:
Yes – 33.10% or 1014 votes
No – 66.9 % of 2049 votes

Rural Internet and Broadband Policy Group

Thanks to Amalia Anderson for sharing the Rural Internet and Broadband Policy Group’s Rural Broadband Principles and Policy Recommendations with me.

So the story is a bunch of smart people, who clearly understand the issues in rural America got together to talk about the implications of broadband in rural areas.

They came up with two straightforward goals:

The Rural Internet and Broadband Policy Group has two goals: 1) to articulate national broadband policies that provide opportunities for rural communities to participate fully in the nation’s democracy, economy, culture, and society, and 2) to spark national collaboration among rural broadband advocates.

And then they backed it up with principles and policy recommendations, “based on four main needs of rural communities: 1) accurate data on service availability and adoption, 2) locally‐owned infrastructure, 3) assistance in technology adoption, and 4) uniform and transparent federal policies.”

Here’s the refreshing thing – the big answer isn’t more money. Instead many of the recommendations revolve around sharing info and resources that already exist, or would not monumental to create such as accurate mapping, upping minimum speed defined as broadband, creating a database of transportation projects to allow broadband providers to recognize opportunities for open conduit. They are pro open access networks, pro net neutrality and pro transparency.

The report is only six pages and is well worth the time – it definitely cuts to the chase.

PolarNet vote on FTTH in North St Paul

Today, the citizens of North St. Paul are voting on PolarNet, a municipal fiber to the home network. The results will be interesting and will generate significant discussion in the coming days about why it passed or did not, the role of groups like the Coalition for Broadband Choice and the MN Free Market Institute, and the future of similar municipal fiber to the home initiatives.

In my work with communities on broadband and economic development, I seek pragmatic, problem solving solutions. In communities where the discussion begins “If only we had a fiber network, people would come here and start businesses”, I emphasize the need for current users to adopt technologies that make use of robust telecommunications networks as a first step in increasing community technological vitality. I also see the significant value of local control of networks so as to more easily and flexibly enable economic development and other community goals. Leaders recognize that the community balance sheet can include a much wider variety of assets than a publicly or privately held company. Plus, I have seen that whenever a third network operator, public or private, enters the market, prices drop and services improve.

My work brings me into close contact with telecommunications providers as well. I appreciate their focus on the bottom line and ROI. But unfortunately, providers consistently engage in two destructive behaviors. First is the incumbent providers’ widespread, but not universal, inability to work in a straight forward manner with communities seeking enhanced telecommunications services. This is best illustrated by the situation in Monticello where there may soon be two FTTH networks in place. Adjacent communities can only observe that the only way to stimulate private sector investment is to threaten public sector investment. Another practice is the denial of critical information to community leaders about facilities and capabilities. The Coalition for Broadband Choice’s web site cites multiple existing fiber networks; my own experience is that community leaders’ requests for documentation have not been met.

The other common destructive behavior by incumbents is the observation that communities cannot successfully operate a municipal telecommunications network. This assumption is proven false every day in a growing number of FTTH municipal utilities across the country with a variety of operating models.

Thanks to the Internet, we will be able to log on tonight and see the North St. Paul election results. It is critical that communities have the right to ensure their own economic success. Telecommunications infrastructure and services are now a critical ingredient to that success.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose leadership ensured that all Americans would have access to telephone and electricity, said,

“I therefore lay down the following principle: That where a community–a city or county or a district–is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of Government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up, after a fair referendum to its voters has been had, its own governmentally owned and operated service.

“That right has been recognized in a good many of the States of the Union. Its general recognition by every State will hasten the day of better service and lower rates. It is perfectly clear to me, and to every thinking citizen, that no community which is sure that it is now being served well, and at reasonable rates by a private utility company, will seek to build or operate its own plant. But on the other hand the very fact that a community can, by vote of the electorate, create a yardstick of its own, will, in most cases, guarantee good service and low rates to its population. I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility something like this: a “birch rod” in the cupboard to be taken out and used only when the “child” gets beyond the point where a mere scolding does no good.”