Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
Solving Middle Mile Availability Does NOT Solve Last Mile Problems
Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the broadband stimulus program was its focus on middle mile investments in a bid to avoid overly upsetting powerful incumbent providers who do not look kindly upon competition (something we discussed here). Some claimed that by increasing middle mile options, the private sector will have greater incentive to invest in the next-generation broadband networks communities desperately need. While this is undoubtedly true, it ignores the biggest hurdle facing network deployers: the high cost of building the network. Reducing the operating expenses of a new network by dropping backhaul prices does very little to allow a deployer (private, public, etc) to better afford the high capital cost of building the network. To illustrate, I could greatly improve my vertical but I still would not play in the NBA (apparently, that requires talent also). Remarkably, we have a fantastic test case of what happens when a government builds massive middle-mile connections and expects the private sector to complete the last mile build: Alberta Province in Canada. Ten years ago, Alberta began building the Supernet, a massive mostly fiber backbone delivering 100Mbps into just about every town in the province (we wrote about this in the back of our Breaking the Broadband Monopoly report). Despite the fact that anyone could get affordable backhaul, a recent Calgary Herald article revealed that half a million people still only have access to dial-up. This illustrates an important lesson: by making ubiquitous backhaul available, the private sector did invest. Unfortunately, it invested only in the profitable areas and has left perhaps a larger problem behind for the public sector to solve.
The plan was to leave it up to private Internet service providers to supply the final leg of the connection between the SuperNet and individual users. Unfortunately for many residents who live outside of major urban centres, there's often little financial incentive for providers to do so.
Some munis in Alberta have built last mile networks themselves, but at this point, most are still trying to figure out how to ensure everyone has access to fast and reliable broadband. The lesson for us? Public investments in middle mile networks are extremely unlikely to solve our last-mile problems. The last mile is the most expensive part of the network to build and reducing the middle mile costs does very little to change that equation. That said, counties that start with publicly owned middle mile networks connecting key anchor institutions are certainly smart. However, they should be realistic about what such investments will do and what they will not do.
Realizing Ambitions of Open Access in Marin County, California
Avon, Colorado Will Join ‘Project Thor’ Middle Mile Coalition
Avon, Colorado will soon be joining Project THOR, an open access middle mile fiber alliance of 14 communities spearheaded by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG).
Rescue Plan Dollars Resuscitate an Open Access Fiber Network Buildout in Erie County, New York
Plans for an open access fiber backbone in Erie County, New York (pop. 951,000) are being readjusted after having been stymied by the pandemic. The county will use Rescue Plan funding to cover the cost of building the backbone, which will be owned by the county and operated by ErieNet, a nonprofit local development corporation.
Recent Broadband News | Episode 51 of the Connect This! Show
Join us live on Thursday, August 25th, at 5pm ET for the latest episode of the Connect This! Show. Co-hosts Christopher Mitchell (ILSR) and Travis Carter (USI Fiber) will be joined by regular guests Kim McKinley (UTOPIA Fiber) and Doug Dawson (CCG Consulting.
Yavapai County, Arizona Pushes Forward with $20 Million Broadband Expansion
Yavapai County, Arizona is pushing forward with a $20 million plan to shore up broadband access across the region. While dramatically scaled back from a $55 million proposal pushed last year, county leaders are hopeful that the effort still drives significant upgrades across the rugged and predominantly rural desert county.
Brownsville, Texas and Lit Communities partner to Build Citywide Fiber Network
Brownsville recently took a Texas-sized step toward the creation of better broadband options for its residents and businesses, as city commissioners voted in late July to enter into a public-private partnership to build a city wide fiber network known as BTX Fiber.