Fiber plan would be a boon

The Vision 2020 Community Wide Technology committee is continuing to work on bringing a fiber network to Austin through a new community-based provider.

This would give every household in the Austin Public School district a chance to subscribe to high speed internet service at a reasonable cost. According to a recent Gig Austin survey, about 12 percent of households in Austin have no internet access, mostly due to monthly costs. A survey conducted by Austin Public Schools in December 2013 showed that about 12 percent of Austin Public School students (3rd-12th grade) have only dial up or no internet access.

Both Austin Public Schools and Pacelli Catholic Schools are working hard to equip students with technology such as iPads and laptops. But more than 1 in 10 of those students will take that technology home to a place where internet access is severely limited. Our hope it to provide a new option for those households and help them bridge the ‘digital divide.’

The project becomes even more urgent as bandwidth needs—both for business and residential—double every two years. A community needs broadband infrastructure to compete in today’ world. Utilities like electricity and clean water were once seen as niceties and are now expected to be part of any community. Broadband is already considered essential for some businesses and residents considering relocation.

As a community, we can expect some benefits from adding broadband infrastructure beyond the benefits to each household. Broadband will enhance economic development, attracting new and retaining existing businesses. It makes telecommuting much more practical which will  increase employee recruitment and retention and going a long way to address ‘trailing spouse’ employment challenges. Both homeowners and businesses can expect increased property values. Broadband provides opportunities for more efficient local government and increased communication during emergencies.

The Blandin Foundation commissioned a study to document the return on investment to a community that invests in broadband infrastructure. The 2014 study by Strategic Networks Group shows that every $1 invested in broadband infrastructure AND implementation programs, there is a $10 return. The return calculated includes increases in gross domestic product, jobs and tax the base.

We’re working on building a public-private partnership to build and own a fiber network in Austin. A variety of grant sources can help fund the capital costs including the Minnesota State Office of Broadband Development and the FCC. Last week, the FCC voted to bolster the E-rate program, which provides support to improve Internet access in schools and libraries. The timing is right and Austin is ready to move.

To find out more about what is proposed in the Gig Austin project, go to www.gigaustin.org. You can also enter your email address into the web site to receive periodic project updates. Full survey results are available to download at the site or the Vision 2020 site at www.vision2020austin.com.

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