Why do local governments get involved with broadband?
Lake County never wanted to own a broadband network and still doesn’t, he [county administrator Matt Huddleston] said. The only reason Lake Connections exists in 2017 is that the county and its commissioners had reluctantly concluded that no one else, privately owned or otherwise, had any interest in building out broadband throughout Lake County.
How bad was it?
Spotty and slow internet service was a common complaint, from everyone from business owners to health care administrators. And in January 2010, a fiber-optic line failure in Duluth knocked out service to Lake County and other areas of northeastern Minnesota. News accounts from the time describe phone service going out, including 911 calls, credit cards not working and bank ATMs going down. Even the Border Patrol had to scramble to restore communications.
The availability of federal stimulus money after the start of the Great Recession is what provided the opportunity for Lake County to take charge of providing its own solution.
What were the problems building the network?
The county’s up-and-down history with the RUS later became the subject of an in-depth investigation published in Politico entitled “Wired to fail,” although by far most of the criticism was directed at the federal agency.
It’s certainly true that the project ran into delays, including finding out it would be very difficult to get rights to hang Lake Connections’ cables on the poles of other utilities.
It didn’t help that the traditional broadband industry, which didn’t want to make a big investment in Lake County, also didn’t want the taxpayer to do it. That explains why the cable company Mediacom Communications tossed legal and PR rocks at the project.
There were speed bumps with contractors, too, and the current management company has been in place only since late last year. But the county pressed ahead, and the first customers in Silver Bay and Two Harbors were connected roughly three years ago.
Would they do it again?
But it seems clear that even if the county doesn’t get back all or much of the more than $17 million it has put into the project, county officials won’t see much to apologize to the voters for.
After sorting through a list of names of logical potential buyers, one conclusion was that what the county decided more than seven years ago still seems to be true — that had the county not stepped in, they would still be waiting for reliable broadband service in Lake County.