In a recent Boston Globe Opinion, Dante Ramos notes that Boston has a reputation as a technology hub. When seeking options and affordability, however, Ramos recounts the successful approach of Lafayette, Louisiana:
Today, the top broadband speeds advertised to residential customers in Boston are about one-ninth of what’s available in Lafayette. A municipal network in Boston isn’t inconceivable; the fiber-optic network now connecting scores of government facilities could theoretically become the spine of a citywide system.
Ramos acknowledges the challenges Boston would face if it were to take up such a project, but he also notes that it was no small feat for Lafayette. The economic development gains have more than justified the investment:
Half a decade later, though, the benefits have come into view. A company serving an active Louisiana film industry can use the Lafayette network to transmit massive quantities of digital footage. Employees of a major jewelry manufacturer in town can get medical advice remotely without having to go in and out of a highly secure plant. And the presence of the network is shaping investment decisions in subtle ways.
Ramos shares the story of his encounter with the owner of a local Internet consulting firm who chose the company data center location because it was within the LUS Fiber service area. He also valued the network's speed, reliability, and quality customer service.
Lafayette's network has also continually drawn in new employers, including three high tech companies in the fall of 2014. Along with those approximately 1,300 well paying positions come the multiplier effect on the local economy.
Ramos' piece inspired a letter to the Globe from Art Gaylord and Dan Gallagher, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Senior Consultant respectively, from OpenCape. The two find inspiration in the story of Lafayette but lament what they see as a lack of enthusiasm in the Cape Cod region.
The 350-mile OpenCape network was developed throughout the Cape Cod region to serve community anchor institutions, municipal facilities, libraries, schools and private businesses. The project was developed by a nonprofit organization and funded with a combination of ARRA stimulus funds, state investment, and private investment.
When we last reported on OpenCape, their goal of attracting a high number of high tech jobs had not yet been realized. Gaylord and Gallagher point out the most difficult hurdle facing OpenCape and other stimulus projects: encouraging last-mile private investment:
The challenge is attracting investment to build out the so-called last-mile connections, which would enable other large data users, businesses, and ultimately residents to bring this critical resource to their doorstep.
According to a recent post on OpenCape's news blog, the organization announced that it will move more aggressively to pursue private and public capital investment to build out the network. In early May, Gaylord spoke about the next phase at the SmarterCape Summit:
“OpenCape has been and continues to be focused on fulfilling our vision of enhancing economic development and quality of life of the Cape and southeastern Massachusetts. However, it has become clear that OpenCape needs to do more to facilitate the public and private investment needed to complete the network’s vital ‘last mile’ connections.”
In their letter, Gaylord and Gallagher sum up what Lafayette has that they hope to acheive with OpenCape:
Ramos’s column captures the excitement and boundless economic opportunities brought to a small Louisiana community by a municipal-owned fiber-optic broadband network. We should be able to do better here.
Fortunately, communities in the OpenCape region already have a fiber backbone in place that many other communities lack. Last-mile connectivity is one step closer. Whether it is Lafayette, Cape Cod, or Boston, Ramos' question still applies:
When communities aren’t being served — or, as in Lafayette’s case, they want better service than they’re getting — why should they wait for Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, or other broadband giants to come to their rescue?
They shouldn't and they aren't. Ramos concludes:
If Google and other deep-pocketed companies ever build commercial fiber networks to compete with cable companies from coast to coast, they’ll spare market-oriented Internet junkies a lot of philosophical dissonance. Until that day comes, competition from local government is better than no competition at all.