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Our View: Exploring broadband options is crucial

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The majority of Rochester City Council members clearly aren't ready to login regarding municipal broadband Internet services.

After being updated on the potential cost of infrastructure to provide the service — more than $50 million — questions ruled the day. The estimated expense, as well as a prediction that the service could start generating income within four years, stemmed from a Alcatel-Lucent study, which was submitted at little cost to the city.

Rochester Public Utilities staff was tapped to review the findings since the utility company would likely oversee the service, if adopted. Peter Hogan, RPU's director of corporate services, said some of the estimates appeared flexible and more study was needed, which he estimated would take about 18 months and could cost nearly $1 million.

Council members were understandably hesitant to write a check, especially since efforts would also need the approval of RPU's board of directors, but they did indicate support for moving forward in the quest for more answers.

It's the right move. We'd encourage the council and RPU board to make every effort to explore the costs and benefits of installing municipal broadband Internet services as a way of ensuring our community stays effectively connected to the world around it.

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Considering Rochester's economic dependence on science and technology, having access to the highest speeds possible is crucial to the city's future. Unfortunately, existing services lag behind those being offered in other cities, putting Rochester's businesses and residents at a competitive disadvantage.

Where local businesses offer Internet speeds "starting at" 60 megabytes per second and up to 40 Mbps, the proposed city service could shoot past them with a fiberoptic network providing speeds of 1 gigabyte per second, which equals 1,000 megabytes per second. Such speeds are not readily accessible in the current Rochester market, but are found elsewhere.

While we understand the hesitancy among some council members when it comes to pulling the trigger on a service that puts the city in direct competition with existing businesses, we'd argue the city's first priority needs to be serving its constituents as a whole. When the majority is not being provided an essential level of service to remain competitive in business and education, it is time for the city to explore its options.

We understand moving forward won't be a simple task. City Attorney Terry Adkins noted the city will likely need to hold a referendum as a precaution against future legal action. State law says that referendum would need to pass with 65 percent of voters supporting a new utility.

While it might seem like a climb, a recent RPU customer-satisfaction study showed support for researching options, and complaints about the limits of existing service seem to indicate many residents would like added options.

Such a referendum would also show whether needed support exists for a city service, which would offset fears about potential losses seen in Minnesota cities like Monticello.

Many questions and concerns remain, but finding answers is the best way for the city to make sure it is serving the needs of its constituents to the fullest.

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