North Dakota

A Wireless Opportunity for North Dakota

I may have sounded a bit down on North Dakota in my recent post, but only because I want the best for the state. Having lived in Grand Forks since 1997, I consider North Dakota my adopted home state and, for full disclosure, EduTech (my employer) is funded by the legislature, so I’m a state employee. I have a lot invested in ND, so I can’t stand it when the leaders go and propose something stupid like earlier in the week.

So, putting that auctioneer license nonsense behind us for a moment, here’s a genuine opportunity for the state of North Dakota to put itself at the front of the next big tech opportunity and create a friendlier business environment at the same time. What is it? WiMAX.

Ignoring the technical details, WiMAX is the high-speed, long-distance cousin of WiFi, the wireless networking technology now common in homes, businesses, and schools. The distance part of WiMAX is huge: About a 30 mile radius versus a couple of hundred feet for WiFi. This makes it a great way of covering large areas with wireless internet.

So, once the standard is officially ratified later this year, I think the state should buy a bunch of WiMAX transmitters and place them at STAGEnet connection points around the state. Between schools, colleges and universities, and state government sites, there are hundreds of these spots. Place these towers at strategic locations and you’ll come very close to saturating the state in wireless internet connectivity. Suddenly, people in rural North Dakota who can’t get a decent TV signal have high speed broadband. What do you think that would do for the state’s economy?

My short plan does ignore on very important detail: politics. Currently, state law says that STAGEnet is only for use by specified entities (schools, higher education, court houses, etc.). Maybe a few courageous state legislators could step up and change that though, and offer wireless internet to any resident willing to pay $25 per month.

I know it’s a big idea and would be an even bigger job to roll out, but it would launch the state to the top of the list for network connectivity and create an environment of entrepreneurship. Wouldn’t that be great for North Dakota?