Wireless internet is not the medium or long-term answer to connecting our rural citizens and businesses to the internet

I am pleased to share the following letter with permission. Jan has been working with her community in Claoquet Valley for a few years. They have made progress, but it is very incremental, which really means show. Her letter explains eloquently what it’s like on the frontlines…

Dear members of the MN House Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance:

I am a Supervisor for the rural, out-state Town of North Star, and I represent a joint powers board of 7 rural townships called the Cloquet Valley internet Initiative.  We have been working since 2012 to bring broadband internet to our rural outstate citizens and businesses.  We have learned a great deal about broadband providers during our campaign.

Wireless internet is not the medium or long-term answer to connecting our rural citizens and businesses to the internet….wireless is only a short-term incremental solution to helping people get a “taste” of what the internet can do. My township only has access the internet via wireless options…we have no wired access.  Satellite and cell phone based internet is very very expensive, because both of them have data plans.  If you have 2 or more people using the internet at the same time in a household or business, especially if they are using anything for video, such as health care, education, social connectivity, or if there is a need to update software, there is HUGE data use that results in having to purchase more and more data before the end of the month.  It is very common to spend well over $100 per month of cell or satellite internet.  Both types of internet are FAR more expensive than people see in urban areas where they have cable or fiber, or some kind of wired systems.

Wired systems (DSL and fiber) typically have unlimited monthly data use for a fixed price.

Tower based wireless has a different set of limitations.  In our township, our Cooperative Light and Power vendor is establishing internet towers.  The range of the towers is very limited and greatly affected by topography (we have a lot of hills in our Cloquet Valley) and conifer trees, snow and rain.  the range of a typical tower is 1 1/2 mile, meaning that many towers are needed for one rural township.  Also, because tower based wireless used unlicensed frequency,  the vendor must apply “fair use”, so that if a resident or business needs to download a standard (high-def is not possible) movie or upgrade an operating system, the system gives you a few minutes of 7 Mbps, then ramps down to 1.5Mbps until the download is finished.  So if 2 or more people are using the internet at the same time (and let’s face it, we all have co-workers, spouses, kids or grand kids or parents using the internet!), everyone is limited by the 1.5Mbps during the download.  Our system requires about 6 hours to download a standard move from iTunes!!!  So we are completely out of luck for a day or an evening if one activity is a download!!!

Tower based wireless is typically 7Mbps, far below the State of Minnesota Standard for broadband (10Mbps).  So tower based wireless is not meeting the border-to-border broadband goals of Minnesota.

So wireless internet is cheap to install, but very expensive and slow for the users.  If rural areas must depend on wireless, we will fall farther and farther behind in education, health care, telecommuting, business, and social connectivity.  At the present time and seeing into the future, fiber optic is the answer.

The MN Broadband grants are critical to helping rural outstate areas move into the 21st Century.  They have shown in the first year to stimulate partnerships between private and public organizations that have never been seen before.  The technology is very expensive to build, but once built, are capable of keeping up with future improvements.  Rural township areas such as ours have not, so far, provided the return on investment for the major providers to accept on their own.  The grants offer ways to bring matching funds together with significant funding that can really help our rural areas.

Broadband is now as important as roads and bridges to provide corridors for education, business, health care and social networks that are so important to our kids and to older adults.

I urge the Committee to use a modest portion of the surplus – $100M or more – for a recurring grant program to help build the infrastructure that is so important to the broadband needs of rural communities!!!


Thanks for your consideration,

Janet Keough
North Star Township
Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative

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