Broadband Policy Seminar Fergus Falls

Here are the notes from the Broadband Policy Seminar Fergus Falls on August 20, 2009.

Folks listened to the presentation and then talked about what their need was in the area…

Ojibwe community has a lot of elderly patients without ready transportation. Many don’t have a telephone. Broadband can be a link into that community. They have a PALS unit that would be more useful with broadband. Also they have an accredited college and it would be nice to offer classes remotely.

Economic Developers are noticing very spotty access. We need basic education on what’s available and what they have. There are communities where there is broadband but where it’s not available to local businesses. So for example the courthouse or library may have access but it isn’t shared. Businesses need broadband to complete tasks online but broadband is not affordable – especially for businesses. For some people home access is half the price of business access.

Bemidji is working n infrastructure of 10Mbit in 10 years to at least 75 percent of the area. Do we need fiber?

No you can certainly get asynchronous access without fiber. But fiber is where the future is. We’re going to talk tomorrow about what it takes to build broadband in rural areas. At this point people aren’t investing a lot of money in infrastructure over copper.

A local school spent $300,000 in improving wiring to build a network. Would wireless help that?

More and more schools are using 100Mbit connections. Some are still using T1s – but it’s not working with online testing and online curriculum. The question is can we get the necessary throughputs with wireless in the schools? Wireless is getting better – but schools still seem to be using wires. Security is another concern. Wireless makes sense in places such as the media center – but probably in a computer lab you’ll still see wired.

What do you hear as far as recommendations for capacity?

The Task Force recommendation is 10-20Mbit down/5Mbit up in 5-6 years to have a viable network. Tomorrow [at the Task Force meeting] we’ll talk more about speed and ubiquity.

It’s tough to balance speed requirements with ubiquity. Do you set a goal with an eye towards serving everyone – even the most remote user or do you go with world class speeds?

Is it more important that everyone have bread before some people get cake? We want for everyone to have a shot at something. And the need for speed keeps growing?

In urban/suburban areas the networks are economically viable. In rural areas we’ll need a mechanism to subsidize coverage. And where do you stop the need for ubiquity? Must you serve second homes? Do we need to serve the weekend fishing warriors? And what do you do if the current owner of a home doesn’t want broadband? Do you build for the future or leave well enough alone?

The phones arrived with government subsidies. Should the government step in with broadband too?

Is there an effort/interest in having public connections available to private users?

That was discussed in WesMNet. The group wanted to buy a portion of that connection but it couldn’t be done. The issue was that the schools get a discount for schools on the condition that schools don’t resell the service.

Could you work a model where education gets the discount and work to resell to users? Because it’s an issue when you cipher off the big users. You do that and no provider wants to come into the area. But we’re at a different stage now. Perhaps there is a solution that would better meet the needs of today – something like metered service for the schools. That would be an excellent public-private partnership.

It also depends on how to define the community. It can be a slippery slope. And then the payoff for a provider again diminishes. How can we get the best broadband to the most people for the best price? The answer will be different for different communities. We’ll see new models with the stimulus packages too.

The technology has changed so much since those original networks were put into the schools. We see the benefits of aggregating demand.

Another difficulty with stimulus is that you need to make your network available to competitors. That’s tough for a business to take when making the investment. The other side of it is that the stimulus won’t pay for everything. To better your chances of getting money, you have to invest more money yourself. It’s almost counterintuitive. You could leave the stimulus funding on the table and build the same network – on a slower schedule.

The reporting requirements paired with the policy requirements (like opening up the network) make the federal money less attractive. There are a lot of layers of cost when you use someone else’s money. This is a reason some providers have backed off the stimulus funding – at least for the first round. Another fear is that the government may act too slowly for many business tastes.

There are large areas with few people. They have seen out-migration since the 20’s. If we are going to stop that out-migration, we need to have access. Farmers need access. To attract workers, businesses need to allow telecommuting. TO keep people in their homes longer, we need to have remote access to healthcare.

Some providers have come out with business models for serving rural areas. We need to look at how that’s done. You need providers that are interested in serving rural areas.

A few people in the room are planning to speak to the Task Force. Some would love to participate if they could via Skype.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN, Policy, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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