I had the opportunity to attend the Blandin Foundation’s Border to Border Broadband Conference, held Nov. 18-20 in “the cities.”

A number of statements at the conference struck me.

Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin’s Director of Public Policy & Engagement, said that broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of our age. She said our parents and grandparents built the indispensable infrastructure of their age—the electric system serving Greater Minnesota—and that now it’s our turn to build the indispensable infrastructure of our age. (While Blandin tiptoes around this one due to a varied constituency, it is clear that this infrastructure is fiber optic.)

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith delivered remarks on the final morning. After announcing the broadband grant awards, she mentioned that “the last mile” of broadband service provision often “doesn’t work with a purely private sector model.”

Susan Crawford, an author and professor at Harvard Law School, gave an interesting presentation that included this statement: Don’t pay for anything other than fiber!

An oft-cited statistic at the conference came from the Governor’s Broadband Task Force 2013 report. The report estimated that the cost of statewide provision of communications services via fiber optic cable as somewhere between $900 million to $3.2 billion.

Both public and private money has been welcome in the electric industry for many years now. The same cannot be said for investments in communications infrastructure. Will that change?

While municipal utilities have largely had their hands full with electric industry issues in recent years, others continue to carry the flag for local investment and provision of broadband services. This (non-partisan) issue promises to be joined again in the next legislative session.

Every municipal utility manager and policymaker ought to spend some time thinking about the provision of broadband services and the future of their community. After all, modern communications services are necessary for a city’s economic health and well-being. If a city isn’t economically healthy, your electric utility may well be moribund.