Broadband demands madeIt was fortuitous that Chris Swanson met up with Paul Bergman one day in March to talk about broadband.
By: Staff, Forum Newspapers report, Lake County News Chronicle
It was fortuitous that Chris Swanson met up with Paul Bergman one day in March to talk about broadband. Swanson had been working since August on a state task force designed to get Minnesota in line for high-speed internet service. It’s especially important for rural areas that either have slow dial-up service or none at all.
Swanson, a member of the Two Harbors City Council, and Bergman, a Lake County commissioner, wanted to act quickly to get the county in on the movement toward access for all Minnesotans. And it’s about speed, Swanson said. “This is ultra, remember,” meaning speeds beyond networks found in cities like Two Harbors.
“It’s amazing that only since March we’re where we are now,” Swanson said.
The county is a “poster child” for others in the state and nation, Swanson said, as it waits for funding to begin its ambitious “Fiber Network.”
Bergman and other county board members are awaiting federal stimulus money for the first phase of getting high-speed to the region. He announced Tuesday that St. Louis County has agreed to link with Lake for service in and around Ely, Babbitt, Aurora, Hoyt Lakes and Embarrass. “It allows us to double the number of (potential) subscribers while adding proportionally less cost to serve them,” Bergman said. “Our network will be financially stronger.”
The state group, officially called the “Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force,” released its report last week on the needs in Minnesota. If all went to plan, the state would be covered by a network by 2015.
Recommendations call for a dramatic expansion and speeding up of broadband service. The report stopped short of detailing how the expansion would be funded but listed incentive plans for companies to expand to rural areas.
Lake County could be a model. It is working with National Public Broadband for a network that would run along the electrical grid across the county. National is a non-profit that works with municipal-owned networks and, after the start-up cost through stimulus money and other sources, is expected to be self-sufficient based on subscriber fees.
Task force chairman Rick King, chief technology officer of Eagan-based Thompson Reuters Legal, said high-speed Internet connections that broadband provides are a necessity, not a luxury.
The 2015 goal of making the needed changes was set, although lawmakers said that due to the recession the state likely will not be able to contribute financially for the time being.
King suggested that the state can use “the bully pulpit” to convince private companies, such as those providing telephone and internet, to expand and speed up services.
Just 37 percent of those living in Cook County have access to any broadband service, and what is available is among the slowest in the state. Lake County has 81-percent coverage but ranks near the bottom in speeds to download and upload on the Web.
The Lake County project would surpass task force guidelines for speed nearly tenfold. A speed of 100 megabits per second would allow video conferencing and other intensive information feeds through the Internet.
“We have allowed our Internet access to lag in Minnesota for too long,” said Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth. She heads a Senate communications committee and authored legislation establishing the task force.
King said not only do rural areas have broadband speed problems, so do many metro areas. Just 17 percent of Minnesota meets the task force’s 2015 goals and 6 percent of the state (100,000 homes) has no high-speed Internet service, he said, and old-fashioned dial-up service is not acceptable.
“It was clear the entire population of the state was looking for more speed,” Commerce Commissioner Glenn Wilson said.
Swanson’s interest in broadband is sparked by his Two Harbors internet business, which he wants to expand to include 30 jobs in the next five years.
Originally a web site design firm, Swanson announced this week that PremierSpot iMarketing is now called PureDriven and will focus on helping businesses get the most out of using the internet.
“We have the people in Two Harbors to do this,” he said of his hopes of growing his business to include 30 employees in five years. He wants the area to grow, he said, which is why he joined the state task force. “We had 23 unique opinions,” he said. “I was there to represent rural Minnesota and say ‘don’t leave us behind.’”
“Fiber would help this place grow.”