Rep Thissen in Pine City talking broadband: Area is underserved and providers are not stepping up outside city limits

Representative Thissen visited two communities yesterday to talk about broadband Pine City and Aitkin. (I’ll post the Aitkin notes later.)  Pine City has been working on broadband for several years. They have had bad luck getting larger incumbents to provide the service they want – as discussed in the video below.

People are obviously frustrated with their service. And folks are concerned about the equity of access in the state. One attendee asked about the speed goals – and what became apparent was that the number didn’t matter to him – what he really wanted to know was if the goal was sufficient for doing what he wanted to do AND was the plan to have everyone in the state have pretty much the same speed. The quick answer was no on equity. Faster speeds are available in the Twin Cities and in some rural areas.

And people are aware of the limitations on the community without better broadband..

Read on for more notes…

Representation Thissen started – We know from the maps that there are gaps in broadband access. We’ve heard the stories of the folks who live just off the grid. We have invested $20 million last year and we are starting to see the impact. We have committed to $10 million this year. I might have expected more – but the legislature decided otherwise. We started with zero and talked up to $10 million. We think next year that we will have a surplus and we’d like to make a much larger investment in broadband.

Do you have any advice on how to make the grant process better? And what’s going on in your area?

There are other pools of money. How do we capture some of it?

What speeds are we talking about? Will that give everyone a level playfield? How will that impact economic development?

People don’t think of broadband as basic infrastructure.

We have an Enventis fiber network in town. We have ECMECC network – bu can’t share with others outside of education.

We have talked to the providers.

What tools are available to the state?

From Nolan’s Office – There have been successful stories of cooperatives. The last mile is not attractive for existing providers. We’ve been talking to CoBank, they fund cooperatives. Unfortunately we’ve talked to some coops and they aren’t interested in broadband.

Just about everything we do in the schools is online and so kids without access at home are in trouble.

What about wireless?

Some folks around here have  difficulty getting access to that. And it gets really expensive. Some schools do provide a hotspot that folks can checkout but that doesn’t help if you’re in a dead zone and the majority of students in the school district are outside of the city limits.

The Tech College draws from a 60 mile radius. We started opening the library from 7 am to 10 pm to accommodate limited broadband access at home. 70 percen tof the studnest are parents – average age is 28.

In the 90s the State started working on a statewide network. If we had stuck with that the smaller providers would be able to tap into that network to provide access to the last mile. It’s been frustrating because right now the funding goes to larger businesses and they may or may not invest in the local area. I see that it might be easier to get that sort of funding through the legislature; it supports local business. But from the community perspective, it still leaves us going to the same few providers who haven’t served us well in the past. Funding a dark fiber / middle mile would leave the State with an asset and provide a resource that would open the door to smaller businesses.

The regulatory weight of the PUC may be a help – at least with CenturyLInk and other telephone companies.

A problem with the grants is that you need community buy in – especially to write the grant. BUT without the technology people don’t understand how much they need it. And a grant process favors a community with a couple of key leaders who are good at that process.

We need to build a new library to accommodate space for more computers.

We have some areas without wireless access (for phones) and no Internet. On Election Day, they have to get someone to drive away 5-10 miles to report any problems with the voting and machinery.

Can’t find a partner.

This entry was posted in Conferences, Funding, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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