County buoyed by fiber share planThose planning Lake County’s fiber-to-home project were due for a little kismet this week. Calling it one of the “best meetings ever on fiber,” county board member Paul Bergman echoed the thoughts of fellow fiber board and committee member Tom Clifford in a discussion Tuesday about using another fiber project in the area to compliment the county plan.
By: Mike Creger, Matt Suoja, Lake County News Chronicle
Those planning Lake County’s fiber-to-home project were due for a little kismet this week. Calling it one of the “best meetings ever on fiber,” county board member Paul Bergman echoed the thoughts of fellow fiber board and committee member Tom Clifford in a discussion Tuesday about using another fiber project in the area to compliment the county plan.
The board members and partner National Public Broadband met with the team working on the Northeast Service Cooperative “middle mile” fiber project earlier Tuesday. NPB’s John Schultz talked enthusiastically about the meeting with the full board Tuesday night at the Law Enforcement Center conference room.
The two groups are working on a plan to share costs and space on network lines. The cooperative is working on building main communication lines to mostly public institutions like libraries, health care centers, and schools. Its project, set to go under construction this spring, got $43 million in federal funding in March of 2010. The county received about $64 million in a loan and grant in September from the same Rural Utilities Service program through the Department of Agriculture.
Officials said working together where the projects cross each other in St. Louis and Lake Counties only makes sense. NSC can increase its services as Lake County plans to spider its network to every home and business in its coverage area. The NSC will have main lines that the county project can use in shooting up to remote areas and into cities as far flung as Ely and Finland.
The cooperative has been running a regional internet network since 2000, and, with its project further ahead than that of Lake County, offers a peek into the future for the fiber-to-home project. County commissioners and NPB planners found the meeting reassuring.
“It makes all the sense in the world,” Clifford said of the collaboration. After a month of dealing with sometimes tough negotiations on a permanent contract with National Public Broadband and questions about CEO Tim Nulty’s past project in Vermont, Clifford was feeling pretty skeptical about the county project surviving. Tuesday’s meeting on sharing network space infused a lot more confidence in moving ahead, he said. “It makes this thing look more positive,” he said.
NSC is creating an open network, meaning any qualified data provider, including private companies, can use its lines. It means the infrastructure it will begin installing this spring will be ready-made for other providers to piggy-back on to.
“We’re fortunate to have a middle-mile network (going up) at the same time,” NPB’s John Schultz told the board. “There’s all kinds of options for collaboration.”
Using NSC lines will help the county project reach those in cities more quickly, Schultz said, so the network can concentrate on building customers there while working on the more remote areas of the network coverage area.
Schultz said there is still a lot of work to do on the details of the collaboration, including lease fees and making sure technologies and electronics match.
The NSC project will cover eight counties in the region and be available for 221 key sites. It would include nearly a quarter of Minnesota and would pass through St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca, and Aitkin counties.
The cooperative, based in Mountain Iron, plans to begin construction this spring for Phase I, which includes the backbone for a fiber network, said Paul Brinkman, executive director of the cooperative. He said construction is expected to be complete by the fall of 2012.
Brinkman said service agreements are being created with the various institutions involved.
Lake Superior School District Superintendent Phil Minkkinen said the district has been trying to develop plans to use fiber for instructional programs and improve teacher skills.
“There are no models that are using this sort of access that we have found, so we will continue to work on this while the construction of the fiber continues,” Minkkinen said. “Because there is no model out there for this sort of access, we will be re-inventing the wheel for the usage of internet access for pre-K-12 schools.”
The College of St. Scholastica has expressed an interest in training district teachers to use technology in the classroom and methods that will improve teaching and learning. This will likely begin with a partnership between the district, the college, the teachers, and some student-teachers at Scholastica with high-level technology skills.
“We hope this will encourage our teachers to take some risks in changing their teaching strategies to include the kind of technology [that] we will have in our classrooms,” Minkkinen said.
Most of the lines will be redundant, or will have loops around spots if outages occur. It means the area could avoid another telecommunications breakdown like the one that occurred last January. Current plans don’t include redundancy beyond Illgen City, near Finland, meaning areas in Cook County may need to find another way to loop lines.
- Lake County commissioners hammered out final details of a permanent contract with National Public Broadband and released that draft to the company this week. Both sides are expected to meet today to come to agreement on the terms. The fiber committee will meet at 12:30 before a 2 p.m. meeting with all the members of the county board and NPB representatives. Both meetings are in the board meeting room at the Lake County Courthouse.