Chisago County Press: Broadband 'summit' brings providers, policymakers, customers, public officials together
Congressman Rick Nolan told about 100 people gathered for the Blandin Broadband Committee’s Summit last week, at Split Rocks entertainment center, there is bipartisan support in congress behind making internet service more accessible and reliable to those in outlying areas. It’s a matter of budget priorities. Congress has implemented CAF or the Connect America Fund which is in its second iteration and sixth year, but there’s much more land area awaiting high speed, high capacity Internet than there is funding. He compared the effort to the federal government’s rural electrification authority (REA) of decades ago, that went about setting poles and stringing powerlines everywhere.
He added that the economic boost from having broadband available for new business startups and research, etc. will generate money in the United States at levels not possible now due to technology shortcomings. This growth in economic activity will in turn generate payroll, taxes and related businesses.
Rural North Branch resident Dennis Johnson, owner of Natural Spaces Domes which provides dome design structures around the world, said he could do internet classes on domes and live stream the assembly of a structure for customers if broadband were available.
In video-taped messages played in the banquet meeting room, Senators Klobuchar and Franken applauded the summit-goers and agreed that there needs to be a concerted effort to bring connectivity to Minnesotans.
A MN Dept of Employment and economic development (DEED) Grants Administrator explained how state funding is making investments in broadband happen in various regions of the state.
Jane Leonard shared a map of “percent of households served by wire line service, which had most of Chisago County colored in the un-served shade.
Leonard said for 2016 there’s $35 million in one-time funding (once the governor signs the bill) and the legislation appropriating the money includes an exemption on prevailing wage for the final mile of fiber or copper installations, which will help contain project costs.
She is at email@example.com and she can assist with inquiries about grant availability for government units or groups of customers, etc.
There were representatives at the summit from Nextera, Frontier, CenturyLink and Genesis.
In total, the under-served need in Chisago County is estimated to cost $1,357,845 to address completely. The company representatives said they all welcome public-private partnerships to fund fiber or copper installation to bring broadband where it’s needed. One example cited is an effort underway coordinating Sunrise Township officials’ interest in assisting a business in bringing a broadband service to Sunrise.
Frontier representative Bob Trombley also mentioned that Frontier has a work plan this summer that entails adding 39 “sites” to about 35 existing throughout Chisago County, enhancing internet service here.
Genesis owner Jay Mankie said the wireless provider is connecting its water tower sites to other companies’ fiber optic lines. The company started in 2001 with a wireless site in Braham and now has eight points of presence and 155 customers in Chisago County, including the Stacy communications equipment site.
Tyler Middleton, for CenturyLink, said the challenge is expanding service from the fiber that already runs through the county along 35. The number of customers being served and the cost to serve them is the hurdle for the internet service providers. Companies are doing what they can to plan for future capacity, when that “financial code can be cracked.”