A lot of times, broadband gets built as a public-private partnership. It feeds into the dig once ethos – of put as much fiber as you can info the ground at once. So a public agency might share the “pipe” with a private partner and each gets so many strands of fiber. Dakota County has done a lot of this with the idea that local government can support broadband for end users but through partnerships with private providers, they don’t need to serve the end users. The Dakota Broadband Board (DBB) works on leveraging such opportunities.
It looks like Burnsville is interested in doing things differently. Council Member Dan Gustafson has been the Burnsville seat DBB for two years. But recently the Burnsville City Council voted to replace Gustafson with Council Member Cara Schulz as the council’s representative to the DBB. The reason is because a majority of the Burnsville City Council do not support the public-private sharing of broadband.
The replacement reflects a long-running policy dispute on the council over the direction of a board formed in 2017 to efficiently manage cities’ individual fiber networks and support broadband expansion.
[Burnsville City Councilmembers] Schulz, Kealey and Workman oppose using excess capacity on the publicly owned “I-net” linking government buildings and utilities as a “C-net” that private Internet service providers can lease.
“Through these partnerships, additional businesses and residents throughout Dakota County can be served, and communities can pursue future economic development opportunities,” the board says on its website.
Burnsville “may be headed off the DBB” because the board is pursuing the C-net, Kealey said during Tuesday’s council meeting. The council’s majority position is “quite different from what it might have been five years ago or four years ago.”
Here’s the view of sharing infrastructure…
In a post-meeting interview, Gustafson said the council originally joined the board — an initiative of the county’s Community Development Agency — knowing that part of its mission was economic development through access to high-speed broadband not uniformly available throughout the county.
C-net lease availability could attract new Internet and content providers to serve residents and businesses and foster competition, Gustafson said.
“The three of them don’t want that to happen,” he said. “They want to keep the incumbents in place.”
The city would collect a lease fee and the community would get better service, he said.
And the view of NOT sharing infrastructure…
In a post-meeting interview, Schulz said federal law is the barrier to competition, and C-net leases paid by private providers would be heavily subsidized because of the public cost of maintaining the fiber network.
Eagan, which didn’t join the county broadband board, lost “millions” on its own C-net, Schulz said.
In the years since the board formed under a joint powers agreement, the county has gained access to other funds it can use to run fiber to areas without high-speed service, she said.
“What we don’t want, is we don’t want the city in competition with businesses to provide something that businesses provide,” Schulz said. “We’re not going to suddenly get into selling clothes, either.”
The C-net was “just an idea that didn’t get done before it was outdated,” Schulz said. The concept is outdated “both in technology and where we’re at with infrastructure,” she said.