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Leaders discuss broadband effort's future in Red Wing

HBC president and CEO Gary Evans (left) and US Ignite project manager Bill Wallace talk with city leaders and representatives Wednesday morning at the St. James Hotel.

Even though Red Wing is the smallest city participating in a national broadband program, it has a lot to offer, project manager Bill Wallace said.

"You've been a pioneer in getting out ahead of this," he said of broadband connections.

Wallace met with city leaders and Hiawatha Broadband Communications officials Wednesday to discuss the next steps for their participation in US Ignite.

The program highlights communities that have high-speed broadband connections, such as Red Wing, and encourages development of new applications for the technology.

"We're really at a turning point here" technologically, Wallace said. "Within the next 10 years it's going to start looking like the '90s in Silicon Valley."

The US Ignite partnership and participants, which include 12 service providers in 25 cities, were announced in June at the White House. The program also has support from the National Science Foundation.

Red Wing has had a lot longer experience with the technology than a lot of larger cities, Wallace pointed out.

"Size is less important than the quality of applications," he said. Wallace is planning to visit all US Ignite cities across the country.

The ideas for how to utilize this high-speed connection really will stem from developers. But the program has ways to facilitate that.

Many communities plan to set up incubators for entrepreneurs. Wallace said US Ignite also is establishing an online system where the participating communities can share thoughts and applications. The group is drawing in companies and universities as partners as well.

A long-term global competition planned with the help of Mozilla will bring in more new ideas, Wallace said.

The US Ignite program has six priority areas for the applications: education and workforce development, advanced manufacturing, health IT, transportation, public safety and clean energy.

"We're learning from communities what they want to focus on," Wallace said.

That fits well with Hiawatha Broadband Communications' goal of enriching people's lives, president and CEO Gary Evans said.

"Bill's presence and Ignite's presence have a key role in fulfilling what we hoped always HBC would grow up to be," Evans said. "The quality-of-life applications are important."

The focus on technological strides in this program also fits well with Red Wing's plans to move into a more technology-based business realm.

"This provides a catalyst to bring those initiatives together," Port Authority Director Randy Olson said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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