We last wrote about MB Link, the municipal fiber network in Mont Belvieu, Texas, in October 2018. Since then, the city near Houston has connected about half of its 7,500 residents to the network and is talking about expanding into the surrounding county, reported the Dallas Morning News.
The in-depth article from late last month discussed many aspects of the groundbreaking network, including why the city decided to take charge, the legal and logistical challenges it faced, and how local service is benefiting the community.
MB Link Emerges
As in other communities, poor service quality from existing providers drove Mont Belvieu to deploy a city owned broadband network, the article explained:
For years, residents of this fast-growing town on the outer ring of Houston complained to local leaders about slow and spotty Internet. They put satellite dishes on their rooftops. They endured intermittent service and frequent outages.
. . .
So Mont Belvieu took matters into its own hands: It decided to build and operate its own high-speed Internet service.
Now, MB Link offers residents across the city speeds of up to 1 Gigabit per second for only $75 a month. Approximately half of all Mont Belvieu households get Internet access from the municipal network, which has recently begun providing service to businesses as well.
Community Networks Create Competition
Mont Belvieu isn’t the only city that has built a broadband network to create options for residents and businesses, the article noted:
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s community broadband network initiative, said cities began building broadband networks in the 1990s when they had no Internet. Now, he said, they’re motivated because they feel stuck with Internet that’s inferior or overpriced.
. . .
“The simple fact is without good government policy to create competition, I do not think it will emerge,” he said. “We have done 20 years of thinking that reducing barriers would be enough to increase competition, but at this point we need local governments to step up to create the competition.”
Unlike some municipal networks, Mont Belvieu had to wrestle with the twin challenges of not having an electric department and a legal question around issuing bonds.
The article discussed those hurdles and how the city overcame them:
Without an electric utility of its own, Mont Belvieu created a high-speed network by running fiber-optic lines to every subscriber’s home.
It also created a paper trail. At the request of the Texas attorney general’s office, the city sought a legal opinion about whether it could issue municipal bonds to finance its entry into the Internet business. It used case law to draw parallels between electricity and Internet.
A Chambers County judge approved the use of municipal bonds, ushering in the potential for similar projects.
In Mont Belvieu, Internet is treated as another utility. When developers break ground on a new neighborhood, city code requires them to place conduits where the city can put fiber.
Mont Belvieu also overcame challenges from incumbent providers, giving hope to other Texas municipalities, the article shared:
A few months into the job, an employee from one of the Internet service providers showed up at [MB Link Director Dwight] Thomas’ office to tell him the city was putting money into a losing proposition. Thomas declined to identify the company.
“I wish I could talk to him now,” he said.
Thomas has met with other Texas cities who watched what Mont Belvieu did and now feel more emboldened to do the same. “No one wanted to run up and punch the giant,” he said.
MB Link’s “Personal Touch”
After courts confirmed the city’s authority to issue bonds to fund the $9 million fiber network, Mont Belvieu City Council held a vote on the matter, backed by strong community support. “When we voted for it, we had a cheer from the audience," said Arnold Peters, a council member who’s served for about 11 years. "We’ve never had that — ever,” the Dallas Morning News reported.
Residents appear pleased with MB Link. The article cited a low churn rate of 1.5 percent, with only 0.3 percent due to reasons other than moves out of the network’s service territory.
MB Link’s quality, local service is one reason for high satisfaction among subscribers. From offering free Wi-Fi at the school football stadium to rushing to connect a home in time for a boy’s birthday, the article noted how the network’s community focus sets it apart.
The article shared one family’s experience with the network:
Richard LeJeune, who couldn’t get a major provider at his home before MB Link, is a satisfied customer. He canceled satellite TV and switched to streaming. He said he no longer has to wait when he downloads a video. All three family members can simultaneously stream different shows.
The only time he had a problem with MB Link, he said, a technician immediately came to his house.
“I tell them, ‘Y’all enhanced my quality of life,’” he said. “'You truly changed the way we view internet.”