Yesterday, the Transnational Institute (TNI) released The Future Is Public, a book that explores international municipalization efforts and the benefits of public ownership. In addition to tracking the successful transition of water, waste, energy, and other essential services to public ownership in hundreds of communities, the book describes how local governments in the United States have increasingly invested in municipal broadband networks.
Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet” [pdf], analyzes the significant growth of publicly owned broadband networks across the country. The co-authors Thomas M. Hanna, Research Director at the Democracy Collective, and Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Community Broadband Network initiative, explain in the chapter:
In the United States, one of the fastest growing areas of municipalisation and local public ownership is high-speed broadband Internet networks. This is due, in part, to the failure of the highly concentrated, corporate-dominated telecommunications sector to provide fast and affordable service in many parts of the country – especially rural areas, smaller towns and cities, and communities with low levels of income and economic development.
Download The Future is Public and the chapter on municipal broadband on TNI’s website.
Municipal Broadband’s “Proven Track Record”
Tens of millions of Americans still don’t have access to broadband, and Hanna and Mitchell point to telecom monopolies as the reason for the disparity. “A corporate oligopoly in the telecommunications sector is a major reason why wide swathes of the country (both geographically and socioeconomically) are left with inferior or unaffordable service,” they argue.
As case studies, the chapter features several local governments that have responded to inadequate connectivity by building their own fiber optic networks to connect residents and businesses, including Wilson, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Mount Washington, Massachusetts.
The authors also discuss public-private broadband partnerships, which cities like Westminster, Maryland, have pursued to great benefit. “This allows municipalities, especially those that are smaller in size or density, to overcome certain hurdles related to scale and the cost of providing service,” they explain.
Lastly, the chapter touches on challenges that the further municipalization of broadband services faces, notably from restrictive state laws that interfere with local decision making and were instituted at the behest of corporate telecom lobbyists. Regardless, the authors believe communities will continue to invest in their own connectivity:
While corporate lobbying and state-level preemption laws are undoubtedly an ongoing challenge, broadband municipalisations in the United States are likely to continue in the coming years . . . It has a proven track record of success and is generally popular at the local level.
Watch a short video on the book below, and download The Future is Public and Chapter 9, “United States: Communities providing affordable, fast broadband Internet,” on TNI’s website.