What are south burbs doing about broadband Internet?
Broadband: Still a buzzword for local leaders in Scott and Dakota counties.
By Sarah Lemagie, Star Tribune
Last update: December 12, 2006 – 10:16 AM
As Minneapolis and suburbs such as St. Louis Park move ahead with
citywide wireless initiatives, broadband continues to be a hot topic for
south-metro leaders. Dozens of them -- including state, city, county and
industry representatives -- met last week for a workshop that resulted
in the formation of a regional broadband task force to look for ways to
bring low-cost, high-speed communications services to government
buildings and the public. Below, an update on where the discussion is now.
Q What are south-metro cities doing right now to improve broadband services?
A So far, no south-metro community has rolled out a citywide broadband
initiative on the scale of suburbs such as St. Louis Park and Chaska,
but Eagan, Lakeville and Shakopee have all discussed the idea and taken
preliminary steps such as conducting community Internet satisfaction
The Burnsville City Council studied broadband availability for months
before telling city staff this fall to work with existing Internet
providers to meet the council's goal of providing high-speed Internet of
50 to 100 megabits per second to every home and business in the city.
Last month, telephone company Frontier Communications reached an
agreement with the city to roll out community-wide wireless service
within two years, a plan that company and city representatives said came
together more quickly because of the council's interest in broadband.
Frontier is also working on similar agreements with Apple Valley,
Rosemount, Lakeville and Farmington.
Dakota County is continuing an ongoing project to connect public
buildings with high-speed fiber-optic cable, and Scott County recently
began planning a 90-mile fiber-optic loop that would link up with Dakota
Q Why do local government leaders care about broadband?
A Competing in the global marketplace is a concern even for suburban
leaders. Consumer prices are an issue, too. In Eagan, for example, a
typical residential customer pays $27 to $43 for Internet service of six
to eight megabits per second, while Amsterdam residents can pay a
comparable price for 20-megabit-per-second connections, said city
Communications Director Tom Garrison.
Q What models are they looking at?
A Minnesota suburbs have their eye on cutting-edge community broadband
initiatives such as the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure
Agency (UTOPIA), a consortium of 14 cities outside Salt Lake City that
have banded together to provide low-cost fiber-optic Internet
connections with speeds of 100 megabits per second to all their residents.
Q What are the obstacles, according to local experts?
A Cost, an uncertain regulatory environment and lack of legislative
support are all hurdles.
Filling in local leaders on the benefits of broadband can also be a
"You have to educate your elected officials, because they're going to
make the decision," said Burnsville Communications Coordinator Jim
Skelly. "They're not going to vote yes on it if they don't understand it."
Lack of a champion for the cause was part of the reason that Shakopee's
telecommunications advisory committee recently decided not to continue
its study of citywide broadband, said chairman Bill Anderson.
"No one was chomping at the bit" to make it happen, he said.
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