Can You Hear Me Now?
Yesterday a man from Minneapolis posted to the River Grove parents Facebook site. He, his wife, and their young children were considering a move out of the big city and to the Marine area. His inquiry? He wanted to know about the school and the quality of residential internet and cell service. As you can imagine, many parents were quick to laud River Grove and give their assessment on varying degrees of success (or abject failure!) in communications service based on where they live. I offered to speak with him, and we chatted for about ten minutes.
What I quickly learned was something I had suspected all along: Here was a man who was deeply attracted to our town due to the river valley, as well as an innate sense of civic engagement. He and his wife wanted to be a part of a tight-knit, rooted small town community, and wanted to intentionally bring their children up in a supportive environment with quality education opportunities.
This is a family we need in Marine – not May or Scandia – MARINE!
We spoke at length about the school, the passion of our community to keep it going, and our determination to re-knit the old building back in with River Grove. We talked of real estate, and I offered to put him in touch with a local agent. The conversation turned to the access to and quality of internet and mobile phone service. He mentioned some of the negative comments from residents that bemoaned the status of internet service in Marine. He works extensively from home, and requires fast and reliable connectivity. I told him our cell service worked fine with a home Wi-Fi booster, and that our home internet worked well most of the time. It was an honest, but less than ringing endorsement.
I am running for city council because we now have enough information about how vital access to quality internet and wireless phone coverage is. We need to examine this issue with a fresh outlook. Access to the internet and mobile coverage is a baseline expectation of consumers, and is critical to making business and housing appealing in Marine. Many of our established businesses need reliable access to quality internet and wireless service. Let’s remember our stated desire as a city through our comprehensive plan to encourage independent/small businesses based out of the home. Here was a young family whose decision to move to Marine hinged on this very issue, and it must be addressed!
Scandia is engaging residents and doing some smart planning for communication utilities. Instead of allowing piecemeal, inconsistent, and subpar service to continue they are looking at other options. Broadband, which provides fast, reliable communications infrastructure through fiber optics, costs on average about $20,000 per mile for installation. Even though Marine is 4.17 square miles, let’s round up to 5 just to be on the safe side. We’re talking a $100,000 investment. While it’s not a small number, the recent exterior rehab and paint job for the village hall was about $70,000. Return on Investment (RoI) seems a little more tangible in that context.
It’s important for the City of Marine on St Croix to mobilize our citizen expertise and convene a communications task force to research and make recommendations to solve this problem. Perhaps the possibility of bringing broadband (internet and Voice over Internet Protocol - VoIP) to our community can be delivered comprehensively. It’s important to note that community fiber optics projects are ripe for grant opportunities, and that this utility service to residents could provide faster (like 50x faster!), more reliable service for prices at or below what ISPs are currently charging. Don’t want city government running the program? The infrastructure could be leased back to an ISP based on a competitive service contract.
We cannot afford to put off addressing this important infrastructure issue any longer. If elected, I will work with citizen experts to address communication infrastructure challenges through strategic and evidence-based planning for sustained long term solutions. Our families and businesses depend on it!