I want to thank Janet Keough for the following update. I have worked with Jan on some of their efforts in Cloquet Valley and I am always so impressed with her and the whole team of dedicated community leaders – especially since community leader seems to be a labor of love or necessity, not a paid position…
Some progress is being made toward better broadband in a group of townships north of Duluth known as the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative. In the last few months, this group of intrepid folks has completed two feasibility studies and established a new website (www.connectcloquetvalley.com), thanks to help from the Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and Lake County, and AgStar Financial. These efforts are starting to realize results, with modest improvements in broadband speed and efforts underway to expand the scope of improvements.
The first study was conducted by U-reka Broadband Ventures, and it provided an expert overview of internet availability in the 9-township region. Through interviews with the regional internet providers, the U-reka team gave us an assessment of the real potential for expansion and upgrades. U-reka worked with the townships to test actual speeds, and they gave us recommendations for next steps. Their report can be found in the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative website.
The second study was an engineering and business analysis by Compass Consultants, Inc., and was also a collaborative effort with the township team. The engineering analysis was based on property locations that had been assembled by the townships and on the results of the townships’ market questionnaire (Thanks to the Blandin Foundation for help with the questionnaire!). The study looked at FTTH and FTTN-DSL options, and included maps, technology needs, a set of best, moderate and worst case business plans, and scenarios for fulfilling capital needs. An executive summary can be found in the CVII website.
We are taking the advice of our consultants seriously, and in fact, incremental improvements have already been realized. Immediate improvements are coming to many citizens who are trying mobile wireless options or the upgraded satellite systems, Exede and Gen4. Some townships are having discussions with the electric cooperative, Cooperative Light and Power, about deploying fixed wireless along with advanced electric metering systems. We are continuing to pursue fiber-based options, but our feasibility studies have shown us the reality of cost of this technology. We are seeking partners with interests in rural, underserved markets such as ours. And we are continuing to learn about broadband opportunities and issues.
We have learned a great deal about the challenges to bringing high speed broadband to rural areas. The cost of fiber projects can be daunting ($4000-10,000 per premise!). Partnerships are critical. And there are many dimensions to meeting these challenges in rural areas, including public policy, incentives for providers, shifting market interest, evolution in electric utilities, rapid technology development and progress in neighboring areas; all these are in play to potentially align with local strategies!
We are using our new website to educate our citizens about what broadband internet can do, and helping them connect with the state and national dialogue on broadband. The website was made possible through the Blandin Community Resources Program who helped us get the website started and designed. We hope the website can show regional leaders and regional broadband providers that there is a good market in our rural area!