Moose Lake: All broadband is not created equal

Moose Lake was one of Blandin Foundation’s 29 Minnesota Get Broadband communities, which means they received financial support and expertise from the Blandin Foundation to help promote broadband locally. Each Get Broadband project had a unique vision and goal to address local strengths and challenges.

Moose Lake’s goals were twofold. They wanted to bring broadband to local businesses, residents and government. (The local school, library, hospital and state facilities already had it.) The also had a strong focus on public safety – in part I’m sure because of MCF-Willow River/Moose Lake, the Level 3 Correctional Facility in town. In 2009, local broadband leader, Bill Carlson provided Blandin on Broadband with a thorough update on broadband progress in Moose Lake. In short the local utilities provider took on the job of providing broadband. They set up wireless access to area businesss and began providing access to community residents. Here’s a snippet of Bill’s report

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.

I had an opportunity to speak with Bill about the latest news in Moose Lake last week. Bill is frustrated because while they have broadband, it seems that as soon as they get close to achieving or goals, the emerging technologies forces them to redirect our focus. There are plans to move their network forward. Apparently the service to residents and local businesses is thriving – but upgrades aren’t necessarily improving public safety. They are looking at Video over IP Community Access/Public Safety (CAPS) Network utilizing digital security cameras to connect key community critical facilities and for local broadcast of community events. (You can get more details on the plans in the PPT below or the script from a recent City Council meeting.)

Recently it seems like I’ve been able to post so many positive stories of groundbreaking and construction on ARRA funded projects. And the ARRA funds (and maps) have stimulated discussion in other towns. But I think it’s instructive to look at what’s happening in Moose Lake.

They are a community that has been paying attention to broadband for years. They have a local broadband champion – although I suspect after 30 years he may be thinking about retiring at some point. So they are a town in a precarious position. And I think it’s one concrete example where the tiered definition of broadband raised by the National Broadband Plan (At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second. And 4 Mbps download speed for the rest.) will be a serious disadvantage to rural communities.

The major employers in town are tax exempt institutions. It means unemployment is generally low – but Bill mentioned that it has been difficult to recruit qualified employees who have spouses would also want to work. Improved broadband might help rectify that problem. One possible solution is to develop a program that would make broadband available for telework and home type businesses. It would also allow spouses to maintain cultural and family connections with their hometowns. Also the presence of many commuters working in the community might draw more interest in terms of improving local public safety. The question is whether the town’s slow progress will be enough to support their future. And are there other towns in similar positions.

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