Greenwood Town Board officials question value of broadband

I have been working in broadband for 20 years. I remember introducing people to the internet. I was the first person to show them the WWW. I was like a magic librarian. And back then I spoke to CEOs, City Officials and others about the value of Internet. But it has been years since I’ve heard of community meeting that shifted from “how can we get broadband” to “why.” But apparently that was the shift at the Greenwood Town Board meeting on May 14, as the Timber Jay reports

Several Greenwood Town Board officials, at their meeting on May 14, questioned the township’s participation in the ongoing regional broadband project. The Blandin Foundation has awarded a $75,000 grant to several local communities consisting of representatives from Tower, Breitung, Eagles Nest, Vermilion Lake, and Greenwood to use for smaller community projects to increase broadband availability.

The group has allocated $5,000 of the grant to allow Greenwood to purchase a public computer for use at the town hall. The township is required to provide a match for the grant, but the township’s contribution could be in-kind services, such as providing rent-free use of the town hall space, use of the township’s printer (at a per copy charge) and oversight by township staff. The plan calls for the computer to be available only during the clerk’s regular office hours, 20 hours a week. The grant would also cover additional costs for higher speed internet service.

But town board members, who had approved the project at last month’s meeting, had more questions, and some seemed unwilling to participate at all.

It seems like part of the issue is the cost of technology…

Treasurer Pam Rodgers appeared to support the project, but she questioned the computer and software set-up from Mark Wilcox Computer Services that had been included in the proposal, at a cost of $3,278. She said she had talked with Wilcox and felt a lower cost computer would be more than adequate. She estimated that annual maintenance costs for the computer would be $300 a year.

Chairman Carmen DeLuca wondered why the public couldn’t use the old fire department office computer. Board members told him that computer was outdated, and probably wouldn’t be suitable.

I understand the desire to get the best deal but computers for home and business (or industrial-strength shared) use are different. It’s difficult to understand that if you don’t work in IT; I think the correlation might be home versus an industrial oven.

The bigger issue might be assumption that satellite will make fiber obsolete, or not worth the investment…

DeLuca also questioned the project’s commitment to installing broadband service. He said that in five years that technology would be outdated and satellite technology would be in use.

DeLuca isn’t alone in wanting satellite to be a solution but experts have repeatedly said that high orbit satellite will not work for rural areas…

Everyone is looking for a cheaper, easier, better way to bring broadband to rural Minnesota. 5G isn’t it. Industry experts have confirmed that 5G isn’t a solution for rural areas and a speaker at a recent US House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed it.

And recently Doug Dawson explained how/why low orbit satellite isn’t likely to be a viable solution either…

At this early stage, it’s nearly impossible to know what impact these companies might have. We don’t know anything about their download and speed capacity, their pricing strategy, or their targeted market so it’s impossible to begin to predict their impact. We don’t even know how long it’s going to take to get these satellites in space since these three companies alone have plans to launch over 10,000 new satellites – a tall task when compared to the 1,100 satellites currently active in space. …

I foresee a different future for the satellite industry. Let’s start with a few facts we know. While 10,000 satellites is an impressive number, that’s a worldwide number and there will be fewer than 1,000 satellites over the US. Most of the satellites are tiny – these are not the same as the huge satellites launched by HughesNet. Starlink has described their satellites as varying in size between a football and a small dorm refrigerator. At those small sizes these satellites are probably the electronic equivalent of the OLT cabinets used as neighborhood nodes in a FTTH network – each satellite will likely support some limited and defined number of customers. OneWeb recently told the FCC in a spectrum docket that they are envisioning needing one million radio links, meaning their US satellites would be able to serve one million households. Let’s say that all of the satellite providers together will serve 3 – 5 million homes in the US – that’s an impressive number, but it’s not going to drive other ISPs into a pricing panic.
I also guess that the satellite providers will not offer cheap prices – they don’t need to. In fact, I expect them to charge more than urban ISPs. The satellite providers will have one huge market advantage – the ability to bring broadband where there isn’t landline competition. The satellite providers can likely use all of their capacity selling only in rural America at a premium price.

Choosing fiber today isn’t like choosing an 8-track player in the 1970s. Fiber will never become defunct. For broadband transport outside of satellite, a key aspect of the equation is how close you can bring the last mile to a fiber connection.

This entry was posted in FTTH, MN, Security 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 “Greenwood Town Board officials question value of broadband

  1. Ann,

    If you would please read this week’s Timberjay. I live in Greenwood and await the reintroduction of the hand crank phone and the bag phone.

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