Dakota County to talk to Burnsville to build up better broadband for residents and local businesses

Tomorrow night David Asp (Dakota County network collaboration engineer) will give an overview of the Dakota County Broadband Initiative to the Burnsville City Council. I attended the Dakota County Commission meeting in February where they discussed the next step plans for Dakota County. The very quick, very abbreviated version is that Dakota County has spent years building a pretty amazing network for the government buildings (schools, court houses et al) and they have used the network to improve things like traffic (through monitoring and light management) and reduce costs. But while Dakota County institutions are well served, the residents and local businesses are not. Right now only 64 percent of the county can access broadband (by Minnesota definition) with wireline service.

So the next phase is to address residential and local business needs. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently ran an article on their plan…

Dakota County, which lags behind the rest of the metro area in broadband Internet access, is expanding its fiber network and trying to partner with cities to keep up with the growing demand for high-speed Internet.

“We’re falling quite far behind a lot of the other counties,” said David Asp, a county network collaboration engineer, during a County Board meeting where officials discussed plans to expand the fiber network.

Only 64 percent of homes in Dakota County have broadband Internet access, not counting mobile service. Other homes rely primarily on dial-up, satellite or wireless Internet. That is far less than the six other metro counties, where, on average, 96 percent of homes are reached by broadband, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

A lack of broadband access via fiber, cable or DSL service, could hurt the local economy, Deputy County Manager Matt Smith said.

“As we look at our ability to grow and attract businesses and residents in Dakota County, we’re seeing broadband can be an important advantage,” Smith said.

The first step of the next phase is the meeting in Burnsville. You can get a sneak preview of the discussion on the Burnsville City Council website. I wanted to share these because I think it’s a helpful study in an interesting public-private partnership and because I think the idea and the documents could be useful to anyone looking at a similar situation. (Or hoping to look at a similar situation.)

First is a history of broadband in Burnsville. As the document says, they have been working on broadband since 1995. The documents includes recommendations from a Design Nine report (a version of the report is also available)…

The Dakota County CDA, working with the Managers/Administrators group, took the lead in securing a consultant to look at how a county-wide fiber network might be created in Dakota County. The CDA contracted with Design Nine, a nationally recognized broadband consultant, to assist in the development of Dakota County’s broadband vision. The analysis looked both at the Institutional Network (I-Net), which serves governmental operations, as well as the Commercial Network (C-Net), which uses excess capacity to enhance economic development.

The report makes several recommendations:

  1. Invest in an enhanced County-wide I-Net. This investment would enhance the utilization of existing assets and provide opportunities for more efficient operations; better network management and planning; and increased opportunities for shared procurement of network services.

  2. Create a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) to operate the I-Net and C-Net. The JPA entity can finish the inventory task for existing and planned assets; analyze existing JPAs; connect disparate systems; and create consistent operating procedures.

  3. Create a means to jointly manage the I-Net and develop a C-Net that can be made available on a wholesale basis when the private market does not have the infrastructure. The joint management of the I-Net would increase efficiency and the C-Net would reduce the costs of entrance into the market, increasing competition and better positioning Dakota County in the economic development marketplace. Revenue from the C-Net could be used to reimburse the public investment.

So the city is looking at whether this makes sense for them – especially when prior investment among potential parties is varied. These are the questions they are looking to address:

Staff would like guidance on the following questions:

  1. Does the Council support a County-wide broadband initiative? Should an I-Net, C-Net or both networks be explored?

  2. Does the Council support the recommendation of creating a JPA entity to manage the fiber build-out and maintenance?

  3. Would the Council consider transferring ownership of its existing fiber assets to a JPA entity or would it prefer other methods be explored, such as a lease arrangement?

There is also a timeline of broadband events in Burnsville, which I think is interesting .

burnsville timeline

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