In Idaho, Ketchum appears to have abandoned its flirtation with a municipal fiber optic network, choosing instead to lay conduit as a way to encourage private investment. The decision is an interesting result that suggests incumbent Cox Communications has considerable power over local decision making.
Readers may recall how in May 2013 the local broadband advisory committee booted Cox representatives off the roster. Residents began to receive telephone calls which amounted to push polls from the incumbent cable provider; the then-Mayor would would have none of that. Even though communities leaders had not stated they were considering a municipal network, they were put off by Cox's underhanded approach.
Since then, the administration has changed and it appears this time Cox has successfully shanghaied the decision. Cox is back on the committee establishing a plan and pressing for the result we would expect. From a Mountain Express article:
Guy Cherp, vice president of operations for Cox Communications, was part of the strategic planning committee. He said the group concluded that the city should not become a public Internet provider, as the cost would be exorbitant and high bandwidth is not needed by most Wood River Valley businesses. Those who desire it, he said, can pay for private installation—and several local businesses do.
Ketchum’s Internet service is as good as it is anywhere, Cherp said—speaking to the 2013 Magellan report, which stated that traditional broadband users complained of inconsistent speed and reliability, as well as slower service during peak Internet times.
“The notion that Ketchum is lagging behind, we don’t see that,” he said.
In May, voters passed a water revenue bond to replace the city's old and leaking Springs water line. Certainly this need also influenced community leaders' decision to forego investment in a fiber network. The city will install conduit in the open trench when that line is replaced. Recently, City Council approved $7,000 to install conduit in open trenches resulting from construction under two main streets in the downtown area. Ketchum will continue to deploy conduit whenever the opportunity arrives:
“The city’s role is to facilitate installation of the infrastructure for future broadband,” Mayor Nina Jonas said in an interview. “That occurs through installing empty conduit with new construction, co-locating conduit when there is an open trench and making available the Ketchum Springs lines once they’re abandoned.”
Even though Cherp says that Cox "doesn't see" the problems caused by lack of high capacity connections, local entrepreneurs do. From the Mountain Connect article:
George Golleher, owner of Bigwood Bread Café, chose to install fiber-optic cables under his second Bigwood Bread restaurant in the light industrial district when it was constructed last year, using Cox Communications as his provider.
No wonder they don't see it - it is more profitable to wait until business owners like Golleher point it out the need.
“It’s the wave of the future, I’d be crazy not to do it,” [Golleher] said. “I’d rather do it now than retrofit it later.”
Though we believe it is smart for communities to place conduit wherever possible, we fear that communities that stop with conduit are limiting future investment and competition. Conduit is limited -- perhaps a few providers can lease it to expand. But when local governments populate the conduit and lease the fiber, they can enable far more investment and prevent a single firm or two from creating scarcity.