Today's information networks are no less important than networks of railroads, highways, and electricity. Each is vital to the economy and a high quality of life.
This site explores the potential for a universal publicly owned fiber-optic network in St. Paul. It examines modern broadband technologies, service models, examples from other cities, and explains why we need to move forward now.
On December 15, 2008, the Saint Anthony Park District Council Board of Directors approved the following resolution:
The city should put a high priority on investigating a St. Paul fiber optic network. The SAPCC considers it an important element of our infrastructure as it would be an important tool for the city of St. Paul to remain competitive for jobs, education and communication.
Previously, the District Council had invited Christopher Mitchell, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, to present about the status of a Saint Paul Community Fiber Network.
Currently, City staff are investigating a core fiber network that will improve broadband access to city buildings and schools, as well as Ramsey County and state buildings.
This is a good sign of progress. Ideally, other District Councils will become interested and pass similar measures.
Community broadband networks are an issue that cuts across the political spectrum. Conservative cities, such as Lafayette Louisiana, and more liberal communities have both started building publicly owned systems in order to guarantee their citizens and businesses access to the utility of the 21st century. Republican and Democratic mayors have pushed community-centric initiatives.
Ultimately, this is not a political question of left vs. right - it is a question of whether cable and phone companies will choose what infrastructure a community has or whether the community decides to invest in its digital future.
When the public invests in infrastructure, it creates the necessary conditions for a thriving market and strong economy.
Craig Aaron recently published a good, short history of community broadband and challenged several popular myths. This is a good starting point for those new to thinking about community broadband.
By Christopher Mitchell, originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, December 5, 2007
The United States, birthplace to the Internet, now lags in access to it.
Countries in Asia and Europe now have faster and cheaper connections, allowing their businesses to communicate more effectively, operate on smaller budgets, and develop applications that are useless over our slower speeds. Several Minnesota cities are regaining the edge with investments in publicly owned, citywide fiber-optic networks.
Businesses, schools, police departments, government agencies and residents all need fast network connections to compete, provide services, educate and entertain. Given all this demand in every community, common sense says the market should already have many suppliers competing for customers.
Published in the Pioneer Press on September 30, 2007.
Should St. Paul spend $200 million to connect everybody in town to a fiber-optic cable?
Our first inclination would be to say, forget it. Or, perhaps, what are they drinking down at the Higher Taxes Tap?
As it turns out, though, the question's not so simple. And the city committee that raises it has done some useful work.
Here's how we'd summarize it:
The Internet and other technological advances are changing the way the world works. For markets of all kinds - commercial, political, ideological, educational, you name it - information is like oxygen. It's pumping through the world like never before, and faster than ever. As always, access to information is a competitive advantage. Competition promotes innovation and efficiency. Generally speaking, the more competition, the better.
On 17 October, 2007, Andrea Casselton made this presentation at an informal hearing in Eagan about broadband policy.
Good afternoon, I am Andrea Casselton, the Director of the Office of Technology and Communications for the City of Saint Paul. Thank you for holding this important hearing. On behalf of the City of Saint Paul, I would like to present some thoughts on the role of government in broadband policy.
As part of my role for the City I acted as chair for the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee which met from August 2006 to July 2007. The committee was comprised of 20 representatives from the community, government, a labor union, non-profits, education, and business associations. Some of the representatives on the BAC were also experts in the field of broadband and wireless technology.
Several weeks ago the Committee’s recommendations report was published. My comments borrow heavily from that report.
In my opinion, in order to decide whether there is a role for local and state government in the deployment of broadband in the state of Minnesota, we must first decide if we consider broadband to be infrastructure.
Andrea Casselton presented the St. Paul Broadband Advisory Committee (BAC) Report to the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday, September 26, 2007. [link to minutes] Casselton is the Director of Technology and Communications for St. Paul.
One year earlier, the City Council had tasked the BAC with developing an RFP for a citywide Wi-Fi system similar to that in Minneapolis. City Council Member Lee Helgen had pushed them to move quickly so everyone in St. Paul would have a choice for broadband services.
However, the BAC pulled back to examine St. Paul's long term interests and recommended a publicly owned fiber-optic network. Such a network would offer the fastest speeds, keeping St. Paul competitive. Further, a wireless network can sit atop a fiber network.
Casselton recommended the City seek partners to build the network and the Council unanimously agreed. Casselton is now seeking partnerships with Ramsey County, the State, and the St. Paul Public Schools.