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Rochester, Minn. Still Has Cold Feet

April 19, 2017

For at least a year, the Rochester, Minn. City Council has been considering whether to move forward with a plan to study whether to build a government-owned, citywide broadband network. This week, the council rejected the idea again.

According to KAAL TV in Rochester, council members on Monday voted to table a motion that would have allowed the city to spend more than $45,000 to conduct a municipal broadband study. That cost, while not insignificant, is small compared to the cost of building a network. At the meeting, City Council Member Mark Bilderback noted, “The study that we would do would be about $45,000 to $50,000. If we went ahead with the project, it would be $65 million, plus.” (The Rochester city website shows the total annual budget for the city was about $260 million in 2016.)

Bilderback “said the council was split on voting for a two-phase study …” Bilderback himself made the motion to table, arguing that city leaders need more time to digest the “information surrounding city-wide broadband …” Bilderback said, “I need to go out and I need to fund my own investigations, because I’m not getting any answers from the presentations that we’ve had.” Council Member Michael Wojcik also said he would like more time to conduct his own research.

City Council President Randy Staver also voted in favor of tabling the motion, arguing that that city leaders must consider the tradeoffs, including for affordable housing and roads, that they would have to make in order to bring a citywide network online. According to KAAL, Staver said, “We have to make choices, tough choices, we know we’re behind on road maintenance, we want to fund some transportation initiatives, we know we want to fund some improvements in affordable housing.”

The council could reconsider the vote in May.