Saturday, July 19, 2008 By Aaron Brown
The FiberNet project has been trying to drum up support for a Range-wide municipal-owned high speed network. Thursday night, the Range's largest city of Hibbing essentially snuffed out that idea by opting out of the project. While I would have loved to see a universal, municipal network I had already begun to sense that such a structure would be very difficult to create, especially using the approach FiberNet has taken. The whole problem with expanding fiber networks in a region as wide as the Iron Range is the enormous expense with a very limited immediate return. It's hard to put cities cash strapped from budget cuts on the hook for all the risk. So I understand the city councilors who were worried about cost. But other Hibbing leaders were still saying things like, why should we lay cable in sparsely populated areas? They're missing the point.
Modern places consider power, phones and internet all to be public utilities that people should be entitled to purchase for a reasonable price.
So, Thursday's defeat for FiberNet must not be the end of this discussion. I want to see the private companies who stoop so firm against municipal internet offer their proposals. How can Iron Range Resources, Range cities and private companies work together to use our financial resources to use the Internet to attract new business, e-commuters, creative professionals and more in areas that aren't currently served by affordable high speed service? I don't just meet meet the market needs (that's being done) but to get ahead of the market, to launch this region into the forefront as a way to keep our economy strong decades from now when the mines close (again).
I swear, if nothing gets done to attract modern tech industry and a taconite plant goes down 10 years from now and everyone gets all weepy on the news (What'll we do? What'll we do?) I am going to be so pissed. We've got thousands of lakes! Affordable housing! Nice schools! Trees! No traffic! People will want to live here if we provide ways to make a living in the modern economy.