Friday, June 08, 2007

The Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund

I'm at my last meeting of the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Task Force. We're handing over the work to the new Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Board at the Minneapolis Foundation.

The new Board has a great mix of people--libraries, alternative school, public school, neighborhood activists, community organizations from all parts of the Minneapolis community (plus a city council member and a representative of the vendor). but overall, it is a VERY community based grass-roots board.

A little background:
Minneapolis decided to do a public/private partnership for its municipal wireless system--

  • Minneapolis will be the anchor tenant for service for police, fire and other staff (e.g. the building and other inspectors that spend most of their time out of the office.

  • The vendor will build and own the system and charge individuals and businesses for use.

  • The vendor will provide a contribution to support digital inclusion activities every year (defined in the contract.)

  • The contribution goes straight to a donor advised fund at the Minneapolis Foundation (a private community foundation)

  • (It is kind of a unique donor advised fund, the advice comes from a community adviser committee.

The first payment has been made, the next payment is do at the end of the year. (it starts small--total of $500,000 by the end of the year--but grows based on income to the income to the vendor.

The system is now being built. Zone one of the first phase was turned on earlier this week, the rest of Phase 1 (downtown, 1/2 of the U of MN campus and two neighborhoods) should be on by next week.

I'm excited about this for three reasons.

  1. Minneapolis did all of this through contract law. Nothing about franchises or rights-of-way. Nothing that relates to federal or state communications law. This is because they learned from cable TV--that states, the FCC and Congress like to mess with telecom law and usually do what the big telecom industry wants. The beauty of using contract law is that big industry doesn't want ANYONE to mess with contract law.

  2. The funds go straight to a community foundation. There is no easy way (yes the contract can be changed) for the City to grab the money and use if for police, fire or fixing the streets. This was another lesson learned from Cable TV.

  3. This will provide a significant third competitor for telecom service in Minneapolis. They will compete with our local (not loved) phone company--Qwest--and with the local (also not loved) Cable TV company--Comcast.

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