For years, I have heard Graham Richards, former mayor of Fort Wayne Indiana, brag about this "beg, borrow, buy, build" [pdf] philosophy as Mayor. I am not insulting him -- his brash style is quite likable, but it is bragging. He was somewhat of a celebrity among the broadband folks because he both understood the importance of broadband and had convinced Verizon to roll out FiOS in Fort Wayne when they had no plans to. His philosophy is to first beg, then borrow, then buy, and finally build the network if necessary -- a similar approach of many local governments. This is also often the path of least resistance (which, Utah Phillips reminds us, is what makes the river crooked).
Graham is a terrific guy and a great evangelist for broadband (though he never jumped into a frozen Lake Superior) -- but we have long argued that his priorities were wrong in the long term. Not owning the network means the network is unlikely to care about what the community needs. Unfortunately, our philosophy has proven prescient.
When we last discussed Frontier's radical price increases for the FiOS subscribers they bought from Verizon, we failed to note that Fort Wayne was one of the transferred communities. They begged for the network and they have no voice in how it is run. So when Frontier jacks up its FiOS prices and glibly encourages people to drop their high quality FiOS cable for lesser quality DirectTV (with a long contract), the folks in Fort Wayne have little choice but to shrug their shoulders.
Serfs may occasion upon a good Lord of the Manor, but mostly they didn't. Ownership of essential infrastructure offers long term benefits.
Photo used under Creative Commons, courtesy of Jenn Raynes