What goes into a decision for municipal broadband?

There is a pretty damning letter to the editor in the Med City Beat that discusses broadband in Rochester MN and access to information and/or access to the Mayor…

Recently it was announced that the Rochester Public Utility would examine the possibility of investing in city-wide broadband service. Already successfully implemented in hundreds of medium sized cities nationwide, municipal broadband aims to treat high-speed internet access as a public utility. Recently RPU presented its initial findings to the city council. It estimated the cost of the program in the range of $53 million. The council will need to authorize a market study to move the process forward.

But on August 31, at the request of Mayor Brede, City Administrator Steve Kvenvold forwarded an email to all members of the council regarding broadband. The mayor aimed to influence members by sharing with them an email exchange between himself and Douglas Palmer, the Director of Urban Development & Government Affairs for the national Mayors Business Council. The mayor’s email included a Wall Street Journal article and a “survey” by the group Public Opinion Strategies. The email is linked here in pdf.

Brede does not disclose it but the source of the email, the Mayors Business Council, includes amongst its official members, Comcast, Cox and Verizon. Palmer himself is a lobbyist specializing in intergovernmental and corporate consulting. Even more egregious, Ron Orlando, the Vice President of Government Affairs for Comcast Cable, currently sits on the Steering Committee of the Mayor’s Business Council. Comcast’s Ron Orlando is also a member of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which in 2014threatened to sue the Federal Communications Commission if it attempted to invalidate state laws that restrict the ability of cities to build municipal broadband. In simple terms, the source of the email Mayor Brede shared with the council comes directly from the spokesman for an organization which counts a Comcast executive in leadership, an executive who has actively worked to stop municipal broadband programs.

The story goes on – as do the accusations. It leads to a question I think many community leaders and elected officials have – where can you go for information on broadband? Broadband can be difficult to understand. The technology changes. The policy changes depending on the medium – so phone, cable, wireless, satellite – they all are asked to play by different rules.

The people who are most often in the know as far as technology advancements and political nuances are in the industry; however they also have a vested interest in how things happen.

So what’s a engaged citizen to do? Pay attention. Look at who is writing/funding the reports. Try to get multiple opinions. The Blandin Broadband conference is happening later this week. I’ll try to take notes and share video. They usually have a good swath of people. And when invited I try to take notes at other conferences in town too.  Municipal broadband can be a tough climb – but even when it appears to be bumpy folks are often happy with the decision to move forward.

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

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

1 thought on “What goes into a decision for municipal broadband?

  1. We have been collecting some of the responses we and others have done to correct misinformation about broadband policy, particularly around municipal strategies – https://muninetworks.org/content/correcting-community-fiber-fallacies-page

    Ron Orlando seems to be popping up more and more where people are public about their dissatisfaction with Comcast’s service where there is no choice. It is his job to convince people that they don’t need anything more – and it is the job of engaged citizens to make sure their elected leaders pay a price for only listening to one side of a story if that is what happens.

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