Itasca County to pilot tool to survey interest in public broadband network

In May the Blandin Foundation hosted a webinar on COS Business Engine and Marketplace and Service Zones, software that enables the demand aggregation, planning, financing and management of community fiber networks. (You can learn about the tool in the webinar archive.) The quick take is that the tool helps with market surveys and filling in business plan details related to helping a community make a business case for developing a community network. What would it take? Is the community up for it?

The Grand Rapids Herald Review reported last week that Itasca County is going to give the tools a try with support from the Blandin Foundation…

Working with two or three counties at a time across Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation plans to help rural counties and communities come up with a plan to get connected or develop broadband capabilities by providing them with the tools, technical expertise and funding to put a solution in place.

During the July 22 meeting of the Itasca County Board, commissioners were told that Blandin has asked Itasca County to be their first county to partner in this endeavor. …

The first step in this process is to conduct a pre-broadband feasibility survey to identify citizen needs and interest in broadband services. With Itasca County as the pilot in the project, the Blandin Foundation is entering into a purchase agreement with a Swedish vendor, COS System Service, to conduct service zone surveys to identify areas of demand. The goal is to take information from Service Zones and use it to develop grant proposals to secure USDA RUS and state funding to support broadband implementation efforts.

The cost for Blandin to purchase the COS service for surveys in Itasca County is $13,600. As Klein explained, funds are available in the Information Systems Department budget for such a project. With approval from the county board, the county would apply for a $6,000 Blandin innovation grant to help defray the county cost.

“This is an important step for Itasca County to get the necessary information on the needs to create a map that we can actually see where the needs actually are,” said Itasca County Information Services Department Manager Candy Carsella-Kee. “It’s great to partner with Blandin.”

With any luck I’ll be able to follow the work in progress here to learn with Itasca County both in terms of what Itasca plans to do but also in terms of whether the tool is a good fit for other counties as well.

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