Sunrise Township Regular Board Meeting: To bond for better broadband or not to bond?

Last night I attended a town hall meeting in Sunrise Minnesota – in Chisago County. Held in an old building with no air-conditioning, about 35 people attended out of a population of 1200 on the absolute hottest day of the year. I took the best notes and recorded what I could but there was a lot of back and forth – and again so hot.

To set the stage, Sunrise township is partially served by CenturyLink (CL) and partially served by Frontier. CenturyLink is using some of their CAF 2 funding to build fiber to the node to reach Stepp Manufacturing. They will be able to provide faster DSL to 50 homes after the upgrade. Construction will start in October and be done within 180 days. This wasn’t part of their original plan but Stepp Manufacturing knew to reach their economic developer (Nancy Hoffman) to get what they needed in terms of better broadband. Nancy noted to me that the County’s work with Blandin has helpful both because it gave and elevated her knowledge of broadband. Step knew who to contact and Nancy knew what to do.

But that leaves much of the township unserved.

CL plans to do another upgrade using CAF 2 funding in 2017 with fiber to the node. If they go that route they will use their own (and CAF 2) funding to do that. BUT fiber to the node means 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up service. (It is faster is you are very close to the node; even slower if you are more than 7000 feet from the node.) CL was unable to say how many homes that plan would upgrade.

Sunrise is considering a partnership with CL to encourage them to build FTTH instead of to the node. That means serious symmetrical broadband to each home (up to a Gig). The partnership would mean $1.5 million investment from CL (that includes CAF 2 funding), $1 million from the township and a request for $1.3 million from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) Border to Border grant program.

The questions are:

  • Should the town invest $1 million for broadband (Gig) or be satisfied with 10/1 access?
  • Should the town invest $1 million for some of the homes to get access (not all) – added in this discussion was a number of ways to recoup costs only from homes with upgraded service? There was a back-of-the-envelope calculation given saying it would cost about $115/year to pay back the loan.
  • Should the town bond for money that will go to a private company – and is CL the company they want?
  • Can the 35 attendees speak for the whole town? Should the town board say yes for the whole town without broader reaction from residents?
  • Can we do this in time for the OBD grant application deadline?

It was interesting. The board seemed pretty determined not to act at the onset of the meeting – mostly in deference to wanting input from more residents. Attendees spoke up for wanting faster broadband and being willing to make the investment. Folks were passionate. In the end, the board decided to send out letters to all residents asking folks in CL service areas to complete a survey gaging their interest in moving forward with a partnership and inviting folks to attend a special meeting to discuss further.

I’m including my full notes below because I think it’s valuable (especially to communities that might have similar meetings) to see the questions, answer and assumptions that people have. I think you have get the tenor of the meeting in the video – although it doesn’t cover the whole meeting. (It does get easier to hear the video once the fan was shut off  just a few minutes into the discussion.)

What is CL offering:

We have been in conversation with Step Manufacturing. We have a program called CAF funds. (Little history on USF.)

We have a program to build fiber in Sunrise.

Build wasn’t planned until 2017 – but after Step Mfg we have decided to start in Oct 2016. Should be complete in 180 days. There are 50 homes in the that build.

In 2017 we plan on fiber to node with copper to homes with CAF build. We want to build to the portion to Sunrise we serve. We want to use CAF funding, get a OBD grant and use township funding grant to look at FTTH.

Q- so what speeds are we looking at?
Anywhere from 10/1 to 100 Mbps – depending on how close you live to node.

Q – how many homes in 2017?
Don’t know – because I haven’t had a chance to look at 2017.

Q – what speeds for FTTH
A gig symmetrical – it’s a totally difference network – not like the regular copper most people have.

Q – But we won’t really need that – I used to work at CL.

Q – what about those in the service area but aren’t current customers?
We will put backbone fiber in and will add service.
But that hasn’t happened in the past.
I’m on the last edge of service and it’s really slow.

We need something.

If CAF wasn’t there would CL do this project?
No
Why not?
It’s a business decision. The business case isn’t there.
So getting to 10/1 is the required the service.
The state is asking for 25/3. But the 10/1 is scalable we could come back later to upgrade.

By today’s standards that’s barely usable. In 10 years this won’t work.
But in 10 years we’ll have the population density.
But it’s been 30 years since they last came out.

There are older homes here – the wiring inside the home doesn’t support fiber.
You can get fiber to the house – but it runs into the copper. But there are tools we can add to convert (home) copper to (CL) fiber.
But can’t you use wireless/WiFi?

CL: We want to build fiber to the node. If we can add more nodes we can use out copper to serve more people.

There are a couple of nodes around here.

No plans to go east or west?
Not know. That’s our 2017 plan

What if there are other businesses that want help?
We can sit down with anyone.

We could send a letter to everyone.

How many township meetings have you had this kind of turnout for? On a 90 degree day?!
You have representation here.
You need to get a referendum on the bill by mid-August.
You can phrase the referendum in such a way that makes it null and void if the grant does come through.

For the next meeting we will talk to a lawyer about options and talk to Nancy about options.

Do we ask people to send in a ballot?

Or do we ask people to show up if they do/don’t support.

Let’s send a letter but we need info – like what it will cost on the taxes. We need to know how many people are customers.
CL can ballpark a cost

It will be about $3.8 million to do FTTH – that’s the back of the envelope costs from CL.

When I bought a house, I looked at broadband access.

Payback for the $1 million bond (20 yr) – $80,000 payment per year – or $114 per household per

How much will CL charge? Starts around $50/month a gig is $110-150/month

If the CAF funding will get you 10/1 – why do you want to bond?
But that is only 50 homes.

You can get satellite.
It doesn’t work in bad weather
They charge overages.

When you send a letter to residents – you need to recognize that not everyone can be there. Maybe give them a way to show support without missing work.

If this doesn’t go through – how many calls do you think you will get from folks who want FTTH.

What would get more usage that broadband in this town?
Some say bridges; some disagree.

OK – let’s do it.

Is it possible for CL to notify their users and give a point of contact.
That isn’t in our purview. We can market after the fact. We can’t get involved in this; it’s too political

Motion to work with lawyers, CL and Nancy to send out a letter for a future meeting in time to decide about a bond.

We can use National Night Out to talk to neighbors about this.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, Conferences, MN 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.

One thought on “Sunrise Township Regular Board Meeting: To bond for better broadband or not to bond?

  1. I would be curious in what sense this will be a partnership. I’m guessing it would just be the city paying CenturyLink to offer better service, though CenturyLink would no doubt retain full control, pricing power, etc. This is a corporate handout approach, not a partnership.

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