If you were judging solely from the reaction of Comcast, you could be faulted for thinking Ramsey County and the city of Saint Paul were making a bold, if risky, investment to bring real broadband to local businesses and citizens in Minnesota's capital. But you would be wrong. Very wrong.
The City and the County are paying a company to build them a network to serve their own needs. The City and County are smart to want their own network but this particular approach is a poor one. Let's start with a little background:
Saint Paul and Ramsey presently rely on Comcast's network to transfer data files between locations and access the Internet. It is an old cable network, called the I-Net, that is failing to meet the present day needs for the City and County. Because Comcast provides the I-Net at no charge as part of the franchise, they put it up with its inadequacies. But government employees are less efficient than they could be due to this old, unreliable network. For instance, they have to wait for GIS files to crawl across the network.
St Paul's telecommunications problems aren't limited to just the I-Net. Even back in 2005, St Paul recognized that the Comcast/CenturyLink duopoly wasn't getting the job done for much of anyone. We had (and still have) the same basic connections that the rest of the country had, limiting our attractiveness for new businesses that have above average needs. So the City created a Task Force that produced this terrific report in 2007 [pdf]. But the economy crumbled and the report was largely forgotten.
No one, including myself, stepped up. I have lived in St Paul for 15 years and now own a home here. This has been a failure of leadership from elected officials, staff, and concerned citizens (in that order). Mayor Coleman has utterly failed to do anything but talk about the importance of broadband and the City Council has followed his lead since Lee Helgen lost his seat. A sign of this failure is an announcement that MISO is moving out of St Paul: One of its reasons for moving 90 jobs from St Paul to Eagan was better access to fiber optic connections. As long as St Paul continues to rely on Comcast and CenturyLink, there will be little reason for any entreprenuers or high tech firms to move here.