How Moorhead gets ‘served’

Following up on my post yesterday about the FCC’s new threshold for what is considered high-speed Internet access, I had breakfast today with Rick King and Carlos Seoane-Quinteiro of Thomson Reuters. Both are very familiar with Minnesota’s broadband landscape; King headed the governor’s task force that last November charted what it thought the future could look like.

Regarding the notion that, at least technically, the FCC now considers Clay County to be the largest in Minnesota that is “unserved,” King first of all suggested that perhaps “underserved” might be more accurate.

But then he and Seoane-Quinteiro sketched out how the Moorhead area, where most residents have available to them service with download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second, might become “served” with speeds of 4 megabits per second or more.

All over the state, communities are having varying versions of the public-private debate. What’s the role of local leaders? What approach will companies like CableOne and Qwest take to build on their existing investments? Should local government be a provider? Is the question different out in the country?

But at the bottom of it all is whether anybody in Moorhead thinks he or she needs service faster than 1.5 megabits per second. Here are a few ways King and Seoane-Quinteiro thought that would get answered:

–You live in the Twin Cities and your aging parents live in Moorhead. As hospitals and medical clinics move toward remote diagnoses that let more people get help from the best experts, you won’t want your parents to get second class health care.

–You start a business at home and realize email and normal web browsing isn’t sufficient to meet your needs to deal with customers.

–You want to have video conversations with your son or daughter serving in Afghanistan.

–Your local government starts putting material online and making it easier to make transactions via the computer than in person.

How fast will this happen? How expensive will it be? Who gets to make someone else do something? The questions quickly get complicated and involve everything from federal stimulus money to how fast the next generation of wireless technology evolves.

But one of the premises of this Ground Level project is that it matters a great deal what residents of a given community think and are willing to do. So after the feds and the state weigh in, what really matters is how people in Moorhead decide what’s important and what costs they’re willing to pay.

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