Rochester is thinking about a community broadband plan: People are chiming in

Rochester is looking at community broadband options. The story and views on the options are playing out in the pages of the Post Bulletin. They have been getting a range of letters to the editor.

Here’s a quick look on the story…

The Rochester City Council and Rochester Public Utility Board have each heard conceptual presentations from private companies about the possibility of adding broadband service as a utility. Phone and cable television services could be added, as well. …

The report included a capital investment of about $53 million on the city’s behalf, a cost that would have to be issued in bonds, raising the total investment to near $67 million.

Alcatel-Lucent’s assumptions were also based on the new public utility securing a 30 percent market share of internet customers. While a low-cost and lower service option would see customers pay about $10 per month for broadband internet service, the study showed about 58 percent of customers paying $50 or more per month for service.

Given a 30 percent market share, Alcatel-Lucent projected the utility would be cash-flow positive within about four years, depending on whether phone and cable services were included.

They are deciding whether to move forward – and again they are getting feedback from a lot of people. Here’s a sample – in reverse chronological order:

Chris Mitchell from the Institute from Local Self Reliance supports the idea, pointing out that lack of local competition is an issue…

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 3 out of 4 Americans only have one choice of high-speed Internet provider. If you hear claims that Rochester has many providers, dig deeper. Those statistics are aggregated, which means that while you could have four different providers in a single neighborhood, most homes probably only have access to one or two of them.

And the wealth of neighboring competition…

Another challenge that Rochester faces is that some nearby communities like St Charles have HBC, a private provider from Winona with an excellent reputation, that is expanding a gigabit fiber-optic network throughout smaller towns in the region. Those communities will increasingly draw high-tech people out of Rochester, trading a commute for far better Internet access.

And encouraging Rochester to keep investigating…

Just don’t let anyone fool you into thinking the choice is between borrowing $67 million and doing nothing. …

At the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, we are tracking more than 450 local governments that have made some kind of investment in better access. Some, like Cedar Falls, took on greater risk and debt to rapidly build a citywide network. Others, like Auburn in Indiana, adopted an incremental, multi-year approach.

Mike Schlasner also supports the move forward…

If we are not satisfied with our providers, we have the option of creating a community-owned broadband network. In fact, a 2015 Rochester Public Utilities survey indicates 76 percent of residential customers want RPU to investigate offering Internet service. …

It’s time for the Rochester to envision a new broadband future, one in which affordable, world-class broadband is available to all residents and businesses.

Nanct Bratud, Post Bulletin Advisory Committee Member, lists access to broadband as a way to make SE Minnesota better.

Annette Meeks, from the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota does not support a community broadband effort citing

One reason for the failure of these Internet systems is the rosy projections offered to local officials in the form of free studies that show the local community is clamoring for faster speeds and better service based upon low construction costs estimates. The reality is that nearly every one of these assumptions is wrong, and it doesn’t take a lot of wrong assumptions to do a lot of harm to bond holders and taxpayers.

She encourages the City to spend with private providers instead…

Rather than risking and diverting precious Rochester taxpayer dollars on a questionable plan to construct a city-owned network, elected officials would be wise to consider advances underway by private sector Internet providers and to work with those providers who seek to better serve the city with greater innovation that Rochester desires and deserves.

Rochester City Council member Michael Wojcik recognizes broadband as a tool to attract news workers to the area…

“You have to look at what are successful communities doing to attract people, and what are we failing to do?” Wojcik said.

Wojcik singled out new technologies and public resources to be developed, including ride-sharing services like Uber, living options like Airbnb, population-dense environments oriented to public transportation, bicycle-friendly infrastructure and quality broadband internet access.

Brent Christensen from the Minnesota Telecom Alliance doesn’t support community broadband and encourages the city to look at existing private providers…

The current competitive market is important to consider because it will impact success, or more likely, the financial failure of a government-owned telecommunications network in the city.

An Editorial from the Post Bulletin staff encourages greater exploration…

Rochester Public Utilities staff was tapped to review the findings since the utility company would likely oversee the service, if adopted. Peter Hogan, RPU’s director of corporate services, said some of the estimates appeared flexible and more study was needed, which he estimated would take about 18 months and could cost nearly $1 million.

Council members were understandably hesitant to write a check, especially since efforts would also need the approval of RPU’s board of directors, but they did indicate support for moving forward in the quest for more answers.

It’s the right move. We’d encourage the council and RPU board to make every effort to explore the costs and benefits of installing municipal broadband Internet services as a way of ensuring our community stays effectively connected to the world around it.

Considering Rochester’s economic dependence on science and technology, having access to the highest speeds possible is crucial to the city’s future. Unfortunately, existing services lag behind those being offered in other cities, putting Rochester’s businesses and residents at a competitive disadvantage.

This entry was posted in Community Networks, MN and tagged 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.

3 thoughts on “Rochester is thinking about a community broadband plan: People are chiming in

  1. I really question whether Rochester lags behind other cities in broadband. Currently Charter and CenturyLink have robust networks there. Charter’s start at 60 Mbps and go up, CenturyLink offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps for residential customers. If Rochester was in fact underserved, wouldn’t Mayo be raising the issue? I find it telling that they aren’t included in the article demanding more robust broadband in the city.

    What’s really going on here is a consultant and broadband equipment manufacturer, Alcatel-Lucent, looking to piggy back off its hefty consulting fee and making an additional healthy profit from engineering fees and equipment sales. All at the expense of the fine citizens of Rochester, I might add.

  2. It would be great to bring credible information to this discussion. CenturyLink should publish maps that show where the robust connections are available and at what speeds, both up and download speeds. Same thing with Charter. The companies should also publish customer satisfaction survey results and documented down times to show reliability. Unbundled Internet prices, standard, not short-term incentive pricing, should be published and easily available through customer service. I doubt any of this information is currently or will be made available. It is hard to think of Rochester elected officials thinking about borrowing more than $50 million dollars with little justification! If Rochester wants to be referenced as other smaller, tech-centric cities like Austin TX, they will need a fiber to the home network as standard infrastructure. As for Mayo, I am sure that they have all the fiber they need. The question is whether their staff can connect via fiber from their homes, not only in Rochester but in all surrounding towns and countryside.

  3. Mayo’s silence might be due to other factors — the bottleneck for Mayo employees accessing the VPM from home is usually Mayo’s own VPN servers. Mayo would have to upgrade their capabilities before making much use of a fiber network. But that’s beside the point.

    I was on CenturyLink for a few years because Charter was repeatedly dishonest with me; their salesmen made promises that their billing department didn’t know about and had no intention of fulfilling. But CenturyLink’s DSL service was terrible — it shouldn’t even be considered “broadband” — and I eventually went back to Charter, anyway. A third (or fourth or fifth) option would be great for us. Whether it’s municipal or a private company, I don’t care. As long as it gives Charter an incentive to improve.

    But the bigger question is this — why aren’t private enterprises allowed to compete in this market already? Why does the city keep granting an effective monopoly to Charter?

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