Public-Private Partnership in Dakota County – Key is Collaboration

I spoke last week with David Asp, Fiber Administrator and Network Engineer at Dakota County. David is a great networker in at least two ways. First, he knows how to design and build a broadband network that is efficient and effective. Second, he knows how to work with a network of people to increase efficiency and effectiveness of the broadband network. (I like to think that folks like David will keep us out of the predicament that West Virginia found themselves in – applying for federal funds to build broadband where it already existed.)

I know that many people were impressed with Dakota County’s presentation at the April Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting, especially their one-stop-shop for right-of-way permission. It’s a glimpse at the kind of seemingly common sense approach they take to streamlining processes in Dakota County. I say seemingly because I know a ton of work must have gone into assessing the policy and procedure for each type of application and finding a way to make them work on a common online form.

It was interesting to talk with David about other projects happening in Dakota County and beyond – from the physical layer up through applications.

Here’s a sample of what’s happening:

Metro County Fiber Interconnect

Dakota County met with several other counties (Anoka, Carver, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Scott and Washington) and Hiawatha Broadband (HBC) to discuss Metro County Fiber Interconnect. They are working on an MPLS network between all 8 counties, which will be completed by the end of June. MN.IT (formerly OET) is driving the work and will provide private network space that was allocated to each county.

The counties are working together with HBC to find ways to cost-effectively expand their fiber networks. The goal is to make the best use of existing conduit and connections, rather than building from scratch. The counties and local government agencies get to improve infrastructure. It makes the most sense to map out existing infrastructure, map out plans for future development and pool the pockets of funding to build only when necessary and pull extra strands of fiber (or post equipment on towers) whenever possible.

Homeland security, disaster recovery and transportation have been a few of the possible pockets for funding. While the infrastructure clearly supports those goals- the investment is helping in other areas as well.

This underlying layer of physical connectivity has allowed the counties to streamline processes and build new applications that save money for tax payers. Looking at the infrastructure alone, building up this mesh network among counties has allowed different entities to terminate T1 connections – those connections were costing up to $1500/month. Also each expansion is bringing increasing rural area closer to high speed broadband.

Reducing Government Operations Costs

One of the ways Dakota County has been able to use ubiquitous broadband is their SIP phone system. SIP phones use voice over IP. There are several advantages – first they are like super-sonic phones and work well for videoconferencing. David mentioned that staff in Dakota County is just as likely to meet video videoconference, even while in the same building, because of lack of conference room and convenience of videoconferencing.

Second, the phones work anywhere they can get online. So if you have relocated or have a meeting in another building, your phone still works. In case of a disaster, whole offices can be moved pretty seamlessly to new locations – the phones and computers will work. Dakota County recently moved  3,800 phones to the new SIP system.

The County is looking at virtual desktop options, where much of the interworking and content would live in the cloud, while the desktop is really just a portal to the information. There are some similar advantages to SIP phones, in that the content becomes decentralized and can be accessed remotely – but also virtual desktops should not require the same sort of upgrades as regular desktops (and laptops) require today.

Applications in the Field

Dakota County just doled out 3500 IP addresses to traffic signals across the county. They are used to track stoplights and pedestrian crossings. Good – but I must admit I didn’t really understand all of the implications until talking to David. The stoplights are tracked. The buses are tracked. So the stoplights can speed up or slow down a bus when necessary – ensuring that buses aren’t falling off schedule and grouping together. Also the lights can be tracked and through artificial intelligence will learn to direct traffic as necessary – reducing red lights for the bulk of travelers, saving both time and money. And of course smart appliances like this could be helpful in an emergency or disaster recovery situation.

Next Steps for Dakota County

The next step for Dakota County is sharing infrastructure and technology with area businesses. That is where working with folks such as HBC helps.

The County doesn’t necessarily want to get involved with providing broadband services to the end customer – but they are willing to invest and collaborate so that broadband is available. Again is feeds into supporting the tax bases and providing the services that area business and residents want and need.

Connecting with businesses and nonprofits is the next step for Dakota County. Some counties/communities may not be at the same stage – and for those folks David was also kind enough to share a series of documents that he has used coordinating various parties in public-private partnerships. The hope is that these might become templates or fodder for other counties looking at fiber options.

Agreements Between Partners – Templates

Board Documents

Working with Vendors

Rights of Way

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