Broadband Communities

NOV-DEC 2017

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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30 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017 ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT million to the cooperative to begin construction of a fiber-to-the-farm network. e cooperative will make the bond payments on behalf of the cities and townships and borrow another $42 million from various bank sources to construct and operate the network. RS Fiber hired HBC to manage the network buildout, operations and marketing. It offers fixed wireless services (50 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up) to hold customers over until fiber is available. Knowing that access is only half the battle, RS Fiber created a plan to increase demand for and use of broadband in the community. It offers classes for the community, including computer basics and more specialized classes; computers for low-income households; and an Innovation Center with hotspots, broadcast technology and a drone obstacle course. RS Fiber also became a US Ignite community. We met with representatives from Sibley County at the Winthrop and Gaylord courthouses. e group was led by Mark Erickson, who has been involved in the FTTH project in the area. e network is still being deployed, and digital inclusion efforts are underway, so there's a lot of learning going on. • A medical school is planning to open in Gaylord in 2018. Easy access to Minneapolis and St. Paul and the rural location were selling points, but broadband was a necessity. e medical school is expected to have an enrollment of 600 students. It will add at least hundreds of professional and support service jobs to Gaylord and surrounding communities. e Gaylord City Council and the medical school owner plan to work together to stimulate the local economy as other businesses related to medical education open offices in Gaylord. • Winthrop News, Winthrop's local newspaper, used to take 30 to 60 minutes to upload to the printer. Often that connection timed out, putting the paper in danger of losing its printing time slot. Now it takes minutes to upload. Having two people working online at the same time used to be difficult. Now the company is looking at building a website and using live video. It has started to use Facebook to reach the 20–30-year-old demographic that wasn't reading the weekly newspaper, and is working on monetizing that effort. • e city of Winthrop is upping its social media profile. It is active on Facebook and created a mobile app (Winthrop on the Go) to promote the city. e app has been downloaded more than 500 times, including by many people from outside the area. It's a good tool to promote tourism and recruit new residents. • At least one happy grandma reports that her grandson moved his computer to her house for better gaming. His family (which doesn't yet have fiber installed) doesn't mind, as having him off their connection means better speeds for the rest of them. • Access for farms was a goal for Sibley County. Focusing only on the higher-density cities and towns would have been cheaper, but farmers are using the fixed wireless solution to monitor the fields at work and the house when they're away. • Families are moving into the areas that have broadband. People have seen more homes sold in areas with fiber; some are snatched up from Craiglist before they are formally listed. As the mayor of Gibbon said, "It's good to hear kids playing ghost in the graveyard again." CONCLUSIONS ese five communities provide models for economic development and community vitality in rural Minnesota. By using advanced broadband networks as a foundation, they are attracting talented people and significant investments. Community leadership helped create these advanced networks, and continued leadership will be essential to making full use of internet- based technologies into the future. ese communities are well-positioned to do so. Some factors most important to making broadband work – population size (or density) and an engaged provider – are out of the control of communities. But Lake and Sibley counties have proved that it is possible to make broadband work without those things. In both cases, two factors made broadband possible – tenacious leaders and public/community investment. In Sibley County, community vision helped attract a committed provider partner that has been a key asset to the project's success. For Lake County, the opportunity to apply for federal funding stimulated interest and action. County commissioners had the courage to move forward despite the risk. eir path has been bumpy, but the commissioners stand by their decision. eir vision, leadership and tenacity have been key to getting the network built. e community benefits will come. is is true in most hard-to-serve rural places: Local leadership matters. Most communities look to outside parties for expertise on the technical choices involved, but local community champions are needed to drive the vision and follow through. In Sibley County, citizens stepped up to create a cooperative. Many tireless leaders stepped forward to drive this approach and build the momentum needed to move forward with public funding. Community leadership is essential to maximize broadband use. Improvement requires a concerted effort throughout a community with the fortitude to put in the time it takes. e primary role of the provider partner is to provide broadband that is adequate today and will meet the needs of tomorrow. A provider that makes broadband an asset, not a deficiency, is needed. An engaged provider is the best-case scenario for a community in need of better broadband. In three case study communities, the provider took the lead on broadband connectivity and participated in community efforts to increase use and sophistication of use.

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