Community Broadband – Robust Core Network in Saint Paul, MN

Saint Paul, Minnesota, had convened a Broadband Advisory Committee (BAC) in 2006 to investigate methods of improving broadband access in the city. In 2007, the BAC (disclosure: Becca Vargo Daggett, founder of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the New Rules Project, was on the committee) returned an excellent report entitled the "Future of Broadband in Saint Paul." Among the other recommendations, it called for building a publicly owned, open access, community fiber network:

The BAC recommends an incremental, phased-approach to creating a publicly controlled network that uses both short- and long-term solutions. This approach would allow City and community leaders to evaluate and make decisions at key points throughout the process.

The network would begin by creating a partnership with key Saint Paul public institutions to address their own broadband infrastructure needs. This partnership would participate in the development of a collaborative and cooperatively managed fiber network that would serve the immediate- and the long-term telecommunications needs of the partners. The cooperative venture would be leaveraged through the efficient maximization of the partners’ pooled resources. The network has been coined the Community Fiber Network (CFN). Possible initial partners include: City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Saint Paul Public Schools, and State of Minnesota.

The BAC envisions that the CFN would have the ability to grow organically, developing in stages as new partners are added, with the possible long term goal of the CFN providing the momentum to build a city-wide fiber system to serve the entire Saint Paul community.

City staff began working with the public partners (county, state, city, and schools) to determine needs. However, as time passed and budgets crunched, some citizens began to fear the City was poised to build a core network that would not be sufficiently expandable to future needs. The danger lie in building a core network that was sufficient for today but would need to be rebuilt later in order to realize the vision of the BAC.

At this point, the New Rules Project worked with some others in the city to ensure Saint Paul did not take the short view. On April 22, 2009, the city council discussed (view video here) and approved a resolution to clarify the City’s need for a core network that would be sufficient in the long term [pdf].

Building the core network (a network that will first serve the public needs of the city, schools, state, and Ramsey county but could later be the backbone of a network serving others in the city) correctly the first time offers the freedom later to expand at a reasonable cost, if the city chooses. This is the smart decision because it does not commit the city to any further action but frees it consider what is best at a future date. Should it later be expanded, the core will be ready; if it is never expanded, the city will still benefit from a more reliable and secure network than would be built if only looking to solve current needs.

Using a phased approach is something others (like Burlington Telecom) have done to build a network while minimizing risk.  Each phase should be discrete, independent of other phases.  The core network will save the City money while expanding connectivity and improving efficiencies.  Future phases, as necessary, can be financed by those who will use the network.


Saint Paul City Council Resolution


WHEREAS, in June 2006, the City Council adopted a resolution that established the Broadband Advisory Committee (BAC); and

WHEREAS, in September 2007, the City Council adopted a resolution to accept the BAC’s “Report on the Future of Broadband in Saint Paul;” and

WHEREAS, the first recommendation of the “Report on the Future of Broadband in Saint Paul” called for building a core network to serve the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, State of Minnesota, and Saint Paul Public Schools which would “provide the foundation for future policy decisions on network expansion and applications as warranted through a well-planned and thoughtful approach to growth;” and

WHEREAS, that same resolution authorized City staff to “take a leadership role in the development of a community fiber network consortium” which included representatives from Ramsey County, the Saint Paul Public Schools, and the State of Minnesota; and

WHEREAS, the core network will form the backbone of City technology for many decades, such a network must be able to accommodate future growth which may not be entirely predictable today, and

WHEREAS, the present United States’ Congress has passed stimulus legislation providing funding to encourage advanced telecommunications infrastructure; and


  • Section 1. As the City’s Office of Technology plan the core network, they should prioritize the following characteristics for said network:
    • Redundancy wherever possible to provide the highest reliability, ensuring that a single fiber cut or single system component failure will not orphan multiple locations. That the core network provides reliability, availability, integrity and survivability in and to any core element – electronic, optical or physical – such that failures do not result in outages to the core network itself.
    • Network expansion potential to connect an unknown number of connections to any current building or location within the city to ensure any future building will have access to the core network.
    • With emphasis on sound planning, that a coverage map of the City be rendered on the City’s GIS reflecting such an ability to connect any public or private structure in concert with the BAC report’s recommendations.
    • Forward-looking design to ensure future networking needs in Saint Paul may be built upon the existing core network. That such a design meets or aligns with the criteria being developed by the FCC in their charge to develop a National Broadband Policy under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
  • Section 2. The City’s Office of Technology should endeavor to secure stimulus funds or other financial assistance from the Federal Government or other entities to ensure that the core network be built within a reasonable timeframe. The City Council requests that the Office of Technology provide an update on these activities by May 27, 2009.
  • Section 3. City staff will provide a progress report on the core network by September 15, 2009.

Download the PDF