Windom, Minn. — Dan Olsen, who runs the municipal broadband service in Windom, was just about to leave work for the night when he got a call. The muckety-mucks at Fortune Transportation, a trucking company on the outskirts of town, were considering shuttering their office and leaving the area.
“They said, Dan, you need to get your butt out here now,” Olsen recalls. “I got there and they said, ‘You need to build fiber out here. What would it take for you to do it?'”
Fortune, which employs 47 people in the town of 4,600, two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, relies on plenty of high-tech gadgetry. Broadband Internet access figures into how the company bids for jobs, communicates with road-bound truckers, controls the temperatures in its refrigerated trucks and remotely views its office in Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune even uses the Internet to monitor where and to what extent drivers fill their gas tanks in order to save money.
Yet, when it was time to upgrade company systems three years ago, Fortune’s private provider couldn’t offer sufficient speeds.
That’s where Windomnet came in. Though Fortune was a mile outside the municipal provider’s service area, “We jumped through the hoops and made it happen,” recalls Olsen. “The council said, “Do it and we’ll figure out how to pay for it.’ We got a plow and a local crew. We had it built in 30 days.”
Across rural Minnesota, cities, counties, cooperatives and companies are planning or building broadband internet networks. The goal is to provide even those who live in the remotest parts of the state with high-speed internet in order to foster job growth, better health care and increased educational opportunities. The most optimistic observers think telecommuting and other internet-based endeavors could help stabilize the populations of rural areas.
The big question is, who should build these networks–public entities or private companies? The debate has been playing out all over the state, exposing the seemingly innocuous topic of internet access to the vagaries of knock-down, drag-out ideological brinksmanship.
- Public Broadband Networks On The Rise (webpronews.com)
- Don’t Rural Areas Deserve Access to Improved Internet Service? (liveruralnl.com)
- The Flaw in Obama’s Wireless Plan (businessweek.com)