In the year 2000, Moose Lake was experiencing a local digital divide. There was high-speed broadband connectivity in the public library, the school, the hospital and in the Minnesota state facilities, but only dial-up was available to the local government and the local residents. The community made a concerted effort to explore the option of building a locally owned Community Broadband Network, which would allow the flexibility of providing Internet services tailored to the changing needs of Moose Lake. A resolution was passed by the Moose Lake City Council to allow the Moose Lake Water & Light Commission to enter into the broadband business. They were directed to use the same model that was so successful with the electrical utility – provide the City of Moose Lake with an affordable and reliable service.
A T1 line with Internet service was brought into the City Hall and a fiber optic line was installed by the linemen to connect the city hall with the water& light building. The city administration and utilities business office now had high-speed broadband services. A small fiber loop was constructed at the same time to bring high-speed broadband services to the downtown business. The local businesses that required large data transfer joined the network but the high installation costs prohibited the small business to join. The partnership between the public and private sectors made the monthly T1 charges affordable.
The city realized that a fixed wireless system was the best option to meet the needs of the rest of the community. The completion of this portion of the network allowed all the local government buildings, including the Emergency Response Center to have broadband Internet connections. The rates and the installs costs were affordable to small businesses. Before a marketing plan and customer services could be implemented, Mediacom begin offering Internet services to their customers and Quest was offering DSL services to the community.
The only hope for the community broadband network was to find a niche service that only they could provide. The one possibility was to add Wi-Fi radios to the city campground and the highway corridor which transverse the community. The network was part of a “Linking-Up North” project that was to promote Moose Lake as a place for travelers to stop and check their e-mails and hopefully do some shopping. The Wi-Fi portion was designed to allow for 15 minutes of free use and username/password for extended use. Many of the users felt they were entitled to extended free service, so it became somewhat of a public relations nightmare. Free extended service is currently offered to .patrons of the public library, a local coffee shop and guests at the motels. No plans are in the works to expand the Wi-Fi system at this time.
The areas surrounding the City of Moose Lake begin showing the most interest in signing up for broadband services. Tower and install agreements have been made with Moose Lake Township, Minnesota State Park and the Mercy Hospital and Health Care Center to bring public broadband services to their locations.
The current demand on the capacity and speed of the community network has prompted the Water & Light Commission to build a fiber optic backbone which extends the length of the city. Public Safety has always been a priority of the community and this added bandwidth will allow the monitoring of the electrical distribution system, the back-up electrical generators, the community surveillance cameras and emergency management and notification communications system. Community server/software and GIS mapping projects are also in the development stages. The fiber optic cable also passes by an area that is slated for economic development.
The neighboring communities of Barnum, Kettle River, Sturgeon Lake and Willow River have contracted on a trial basis with the Water & Light Commission to receive wireless broadband services. The links are currently being made and customers are being hook-up.
The major problem from the beginning continues today, the communities inability to hire a person to provide technical and customer services. The community network has to rely on individual’s willingness to help out with the everyday problems and to outsource contract with companies for technical support. The effort today is focused on seeking funds from the Recovery Act Broadband Initiatives to make the Community Broadband Network sustainable and continue to grow in unserved and underserved areas without becoming a financial burden on the local taxpayers and Water & Light Customers.