While state and federal elections are a year off, there are plenty of local offices and ballot initiatives at stake in communities across Minnesota next week. One proposal looks to lay advanced fiber optic cable across Cook County (Minnesota’s Arrowhead) to deliver blazing fast internet, television, and digital phone service to residents and businesses.
The plan is to use a portion of a 1 percent local option sales tax increase (on the ballot next week) to leverage matching federal recovery dollars directed toward rural broadband. If all things go as planned, a community-owned telecom service will provide low cost ($30 a month for 20 Mbps) service residents and business. What will this mean for the northeast corner of Minnesota? According to the steering committee, it’s a good idea:
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- Because the next generation’s jobs will depend on it.
- Because we need faster, more reliable internet connections to do everyday tasks.
- Because we want a choice for our telephone and television services.
- Because we want better coverage for our public safety communications.
- Because modern healthcare systems are turning to broadband access to deliver more services in order to reduce costs and provide better services.
- Broadband applications are now being used to keep seniors and home-bound patients in their homes longer and spare them unnecessary trips to the doctor.
- Because we want our businesses to be able to offer broadband connections to their customers.
- Because vacationers will stay here longer if they can access a broadband connection to check in at their workplace.
- Because we want our residents to have opportunities for telecommuting jobs.
- Because we want better access to televison and movie services.
- Because we want our kids to move back to the community and raise their families.
- Because some people are already choosing not to move here because we don’t have broadband.
- Because broadband will allow us to prepare our kids for the jobs that will be available when it is their turn to enter the workforce.
- Because broadband will allow us to re-tool our K-12 education system to be more sustainable.
- Because we are not able to meet student needs with our current distance learning capabilities.
- Because broadband will give us access to higher education opportunities from all over the state and country.
- Because broadband is the next standard household utility.
- Because broadband is becoming as important as electricity or gas; you can’t get everyday things done without it.
- Because this network will allow us to have emergency back-up connections to the rest of the world so when one line fails, we don’t lose access to:
- 911 system
- Medical records
- Public safety information
- Internet services
- Telephone services
- Cell phone services
- E-commerce and Credit Card Authorizations
- Because we want local accountability for service availability and support.
- Because we want to be ready for the next generation
The biggest question one can ask is why does the county need to build it? Couldn’t the private sector do it more effectively? In this case, no. Telephone and cable companies haven’t taken any interest in building a broadband infrastructure in this scenic, rural Minnesota county. Unlike my home, where I can get a fast connection from Qwest or Comcast, Cook County residents are relegated to dialup or expensive (and relatively slow) satellite service.
When the private sector fails to address a need, government can step up to the plate and lend a hand up.