By Jody Blomme
Broadband is coming to town.
As with several other communities in the Columbia Basin, the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC), a subsidiary of the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT), will be partnering with the City of Rossland to bring broadband into our downtown.
In September, 2012, council passed a resolution that “council commit to CBBC to extend the fibre to City Hall, other municipal buildings and the downtown core.”
A legitimate question a Rosslander might ask is: “Why do we need broadband, my Internet is fast enough?”
The business model the CBBC is using reaches beyond simply increasing Internet bandwidth for recreational use. They are creating an ‘open access network.’ This is of key importance. An open access network allows any small enterprising company to use the network to deliver (or access) communications or software services.
What an open access network means for Rossland is more than just very fast Internet speeds within the broadband framework. It also means that any innovative Rosslander or service provider who would like to provide a communications service will have the fibre infrastructure necessary to do so, with a quality of service competitive with major urban centres.
Unlike the TELUS or Shaw networks who only offer their own services, the CBBC will allow companies with proven services to participate. These open access networks are commonplace within Europe and are beginning to take hold in North America.
CBBC is taking on the responsibility of connecting the fibre network throughout the Columbia Basin and up to Rossland City Hall. The municipality is responsible for undertaking the expansion of the network to the downtown and municipal buildings, but under the guidance and tutelage of CBBC.
Is this the right move for our municipality? I sure think so.
To help paint the picture of what this could mean for Rossland, let’s look at the case study on the Cedar Valley in Iowa. The Cedar Valley is made up of two adjoining communities: Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa.
This particular tale of two cities tells a story of Cedar Falls, the city that decided to design, construct and operate a Broadband Fibre Optic Communications System, and Waterloo, the city that did not.
These two geographically similar cities have very few differences as they are really only separated by a street sign. Their biggest difference would be the very fact that Cedar Falls brought in a city-wide broadband fibre network and Waterloo did not.
This study examines the economic growth and quality-of-life benefits stimulated by this communications network in Cedar Falls, and notes the lack of the same benefits in Waterloo over the same time period.
Before broadband came to Cedar Falls, it was a municipality of about 36,000 people. Waterloo had a population of about 69,000, and most of the employers and financial institutions of the region were located in Waterloo’s downtown. Cedar Falls was basically the bedroom community to Waterloo.
Cedar Falls then built their own broadband network.
Ten years later, a snapshot of the two cities showed an entirely different picture than before Cedar Falls’ broadband network. Cedar Falls’ industrial park, with 25 businesses prior to broadband, had 140 businesses 10 years after broadband.
Waterloo’s three industrial parks with no fibre optic system still had the same number they started with: a total of 10 businesses. Waterloo even started out the decade with about five times as much industrial park acreage as Cedar Falls, yet this didn’t seem to make a difference.
In the same 10-year period, Cedar Falls enjoyed many spin-off benefits to having their own broadband network that Waterloo did not experience. Several companies relocated from Waterloo to Cedar Falls and some Waterloo companies expanded into Cedar Falls.
In that same time period, not a single business relocated from Cedar Falls to Waterloo. Cedar Falls’ real estate became worth more than Waterloo’s, yet property was taxed at a lower rate.
Cedar falls has been able to develop a world class education system with streaming video in every classroom and access to distance learning. The Cedar Falls schools have become “a leader in the information age.”
The example of Cedar Falls cannot be directly superimposed over Rossland, but it does give us insight into the importance of broadband in this age of information and knowledge-based economy. It also highlights the importance of remaining competitive as a community.
There are several Kootenay communities who have already signed up to work with CBBC to build the network. In fact, last month, in partnership with CBBC, crews have been at work down in Trail building a municipally-run, open access broadband network for their city.
What CBBC and the City of Rossland are working on together at the moment, as mentioned earlier, is not a city-wide infrastructure. First things first, let’s hook up the downtown and municipal buildings. Then let’s measure the buy-in and the outcomes. Then at some future date, we can decide if it works for Rossland to expand the fibre network or not.
Right now, CBBC is bearing the entire capital expense of bringing broadband to our City Hall. Mark Halwa, CBBC’s chief operating officer, has calculated the exact costs to cover the area outlined in the council resolution.
The mayor has appointed the Broadband Task Force—who will presenting as a delegation to council on May 13—of technology-associated Rossland residents to investigate the potential risks and benefits, to help move forward the initiative and to apply for grants to pay for it. The remaining balance goes to City of Rossland budget discussions.
I strongly believe that this action is necessary for Rossland. If we want to create a Rossland where our children can grow up and then stay to create lives and careers of their own, we have to set the stage for it. This is how we compete with the lure of big cities and associated opportunity—we bring opportunity to town.
Nowadays, opportunity travels through broadband.
A municipally-owned open access broadband network carries more potential than I can discuss here in one article. If you are interested in more information on the subject, please contact me and I can send you a few studies and reports.
If you have any questions for the Broadband Task Force, feel free to contact me with those as well (Jody_Blomme@moose-mail.com).
Jody Blomme is a Rossland City councillor. Her column is part of a round-table of City council columns that appear each month in the Rossland News.