Usually I look at rural areas. Today I’m going to look at an urban area – Powderhorn Park. The City Pages reports…
Minnetonka’s US Internet is gradually installing fiber across Minneapolis, bringing cheap and wicked fast connections to more neighborhoods of its choosing every year.
Powderhorn Park, however, hasn’t managed to attract USI so far, and the company says there are no plans in the foreseeable future to provide service to the city’s highest concentration of low-income, Hispanic families.
USI offers a nice, transparent map of the neighborhoods first in line to get fiber — mostly the south and southwestern parts of the city. It has shared its plans with the Southwest Journal to also move on to Loring Park, the North Loop, and parts of Ward 12.
Why not Powderhorn? A spokesperson for USI explains…
USI doesn’t have plans to expand fiber to Powderhorn Park, according to spokeswoman Liz Aaser, because USI has just two central offices, located in Whittier and Tangletown, to launch fiber into the streets.
“Where the current central offices are located, there isn’t a way for us to get fiber to your neighborhood. We would need another central office and purchasing another commercial space that can be used as a central office is up to our owners,” Aaser says. “I’m not sure what their future plans are for that.”
Minneapolis CIO Otto Doll has some ideas of why as well…
Based on pure observation, Doll says, the city senses that USI’s fiber buildout is guided by a couple of things. First, they have a tendency to skip streets with concrete — versus lawn — boulevards because it could cost them more money to reconstruct those streets. Second, they’re looking for communities that they feel will have enough money to pay their rates and give them a proper return on their investment.
“I continue to try to convince them that they need to cover the entire city,” Doll says, “and we prefer that they not do it strictly by business dynamics as to where they go first. But you can see when you look at their maps, where they’ve been and where they talked to, where they’re going next.”
Powderhorn Park Councilmember has some ideas too…
However, Ward 9 city councilmember Alondra Cano, who represents Powderhorn Park, agrees that there could be a point to USI’s reservations for expanding fiber to the neighborhood.
“Because for the most part, low income folks and people of color, including indigenous people, use their mobile devices for internet access and social media,” she says. “Many of them don’t have the money to pay for internet access at home and the phone and so they kind of have to choose.”
Cano says her office hasn’t received many constituent complaints, compared to the volume of calls she receives about raising the wage, the environmental, crime, safety, and prostitution.
She goes on to say…
Cano says she wants to know how USI decides who would make a good subscriber base, and whether that decision is informed by good market analysis or by assumptions about groups of people that are little more than just that.
“We would need to talk to [people in the ward] and see if this is something they would want … to move forward on racial equity in the technological field, especially as we see computer usage and Internet access dominate more and more of our everyday lives,” she says.
The folks in Powderhorn Park are in a precarious position – much like folks in some parts of rural Minnesota. They are an island of limited service, especially compared to their nextdoor neighbors. Although it sounds from the Councilmember Cano as if they may be behind rural counterparts in one important way – they don’t yet realize they need/want better broadband. Perhaps they can learn from rural folks in similar positions…
- Build a campaign to get people interested in the topic. (Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative might be an example.)
- Tell a story. Lisa Peterson de la Cueva from the Community Technology Empowerment Project has written eloquently on the issue of affordable broadband in the Cities and the impact it can have on the working poor – if/when they have access.
- Demonstrate an interest. This has been done as part of a feasibility study in many areas – because of the higher population density, proximity to existing infrastructure and incumbent(s) local experience here than in rural areas – market research or simple petitions from residents might prove persuasive.
- Talk to local providers about desired outcomes. Include USI and others on the conversation.
This recipe has not (yet!) been successful in all areas but it has been successful in some and it opens the door to further conversation. It builds a case for improvement.