Yesterday I went to Senator Schmit’s listening tour session in Duluth. About 20 people attended, including several providers, economic developers, elected officials and several community leaders from Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative communities. The discussion was interesting and was clearly dictated by the folks in the room – specifically we spoke about the broadband desert in the Cloquet Valley as they sit among three ARRA-funded broadband deployment projects. So many of the residents in that area watch people lay fiber down their major highways and serve only the people on the other side. Here are some of the topics that came up…
- Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been a citizen-driven project. Lots of people who want access and can’t get it. “This week I had to go out on my roof twice to knock the snow off the satellite” north of Duluth. Cloquet Valley is getting access to wireless – but that’s not enough.
- Cook County got ARRA funds; Lake County got ARRA funds; NESC got ARRA funds. Those projects are in various stages. The question from economic developers is – how can we leverage that network?
- Health care remote monitoring works *if* you have broadband. We are running into issues where our seniors are not able to stay in their homes because they don’t have access to broadband. (More on this on video below.) We hear about doing more with less. We’ve heard that we need to regionalize. That would be easier with broadband access.
- Providers spoke about the barriers they have. They are commercial entities and it’s difficult to decide to go into areas where it will be difficult to make a profit. Providers decide where to build based on where they can get a couple of anchor tenants. One way communities can help is to help build demand. Also there are hidden costs brought up by regulation. Sometimes people feel they should just be able to “tap into” existing fiber but that leads to issues.
- In the townships people still think government can be a partner – but sometimes the providers aren’t focused on the needs of citizens. We need more people to speak up about their needs. One other question – Does the first business subsidize the rest of the business community?
- It would be nice to have a map of everything – there’s redundancy but there’s also private networks. Some businesses with private needs are working with providers.
- Can’t currently use state bonds for telecommunications equipment. That’s one common sense change of law. Perhaps that’s a topic for the unsession.