Cook County ready for the jackpot

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by Ann Treacy | March 19, 2009 • Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article about Minnesota communities and the potential for the stimulus funding jackpot. As the article said, there’s a lot of money to be had – and so far not a lot of details about how funding decisions will be made. The Daily Yonder ran a similar article, mentioning that the communities that are already prepared for projects should be in the best position to receive money.

One Minnesota community that has been preparing for broadband and was featured in the Star Tribune article is Grand Marais – up on the North Shore. (Grand Marais received matching grant funds from Blandin Foundation to perform a market analysis and preliminary sustainable network, governance and financial models for this broadband network.) Danna MacKenzie, the Cook County information systems director in Grand Marais was good enough to follow up with me on the comments she made in the Star Tribune article.

As mentioned in the STrib article, we do truly believe that broadband is the next household utility. We also believe the network does not achieve its full value until everyone is connected. Broadband is necessary to maintain public safety systems and deliver next gen government and health services.

We also believe it is the most fiscally and environmentally responsible approach for diversifying and strengthening our economy. Economic improvements will initially be realized through longer tourism stays, families moving in with telecommuting jobs (we get calls all the time!) and the expansion of existing local business opportunities through improved online access. This is just a fraction of what we see as benefits of building this network. More can be found at http://cookcountybroadband.com

We know that it is not feasible for the current market to come in and build a next generation network in this area. However, it doesn’t benefit anyone, resident or visitor, to let our community fall off the map when it comes to modern services. Just as it took public involvement to get roads, telephone and electricity out to places like ours; the same can be said for broadband capabilities.

The ability for small local entities to raise the capital for a project like this is very close to impossible in this economy. The stimulus money would allow us to build a long-term solution, not just a band-aid. From my understanding, our location and our goals align well with the original intent and purpose of the rural broadband stimulus funds.

The ROI for our local taxpayers is obvious with access to choices for television, telephone and internet services at prices they can afford. It will also provide tools for the schools, public safety, healthcare and government systems to move with the rest of the state and country to continually more network dependent delivery mechanisms. The ROI for state and federal taxpayers gets back to Metcalf’s law: the value of the network increases proportionally to the number of users that are using it. Not until everyone has access can the federal and state governments start eliminating many of their redundant, paper-based, now inefficient systems of providing services and move to all-electronic delivery modes.

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