This same development is occurring today in the area of advanced communications services just as it did in electricity over 100 years ago. Public power systems in some areas are meeting the new demands of their communities by providing broadband services where such services are unavailable, inadequate, or too expensive. These services, provided with high quality and at affordable prices, are crucial to the economic success of communities across the nation.
The Broadband Properties Muni Snapshot of Jackson Energy Authority, serving Jackson Tennessee, offers a fiber-to-the-home network. As is common to the snapshots, it is heavy on technical data.
After 4 years, they had an overall take rate of 39% as well as some businesses locating in the area due to the network. Residents have saved some $8 million in aggregate since the network began offering services.
The May 2008 issue of Broadband Properties offers an overview of municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home networks across the United States. The article discusses why public power utilities are heavily represented, open vs. closed, the geographical distribution, and most importantly, the many differences between the models used by all these different communities.
In fact, what we have found is that there is no “municipal model.” Municipalities and other public entities build FTTP systems for many reasons and in many situations. They face a variety of legal and competitive landscapes, employ different financing methods, operate their systems in diverse ways, deliver different sets of services to different types of customers, and bring a diversity of resources and competencies to the task. While there are certain recurrent themes, there is no single distinguishing feature. Local differences appear to far outweigh the simple fact of public ownership.
Jim Baller and Casey Lide are two of the foremost experts on municipal broadband systems in the United States. This report offers a clear and rational defense of publicly owned broadband systems. The discussion takes on philosophical, economic, and pragmatic arguments and comes to the conclusion that communities should not be prevented from building their own networks.
From the Intro:
The Tennessee Broadband Coalition has asked the Baller Herbst Law Group to respond to the main criticisms that opponents of public Fiber-to-the-User (FTTU) initiatives have raised in Tennessee and elsewhere. The Coalition would like to know whether any of these criticisms is valid, and, if so, what lessons the Coalition can learn from them to avoid or mitigate similar problems in Tennessee.
Over the last decade, Baller Herbst has been involved in most of the leading public communications projects in the United States. In almost all of these projects, the incumbent telephone and cable companies have rejected or ignored the locality’s invitation to join in cooperative efforts that would benefit all concerned and have instead mounted massive media and lobbying campaigns in opposition to the proposed public network. Often, the incumbents have funded support from industry “experts” and artificial “grassroots” groups (which have come to be known as “Astroturf”).
In their campaigns, the incumbents and their allies have typically included emotional appeals to private-enterprise ideology; flawed statistics; complaints about supposedly unfair advantages that municipalities have over the private sector; attacks on the motives and competency of public officials; and false or incomplete, misleading and irrelevant examples. In many cases, these arguments have mirrored the unsuccessful arguments that the major electric power companies and their allies made against municipal ownership a century ago, when electric power was the must-have technology of the day, and thousands of unserved or underserved communities established their own electric utilities to avoid being left behind in obtaining the benefits of electrification.
From the Executive Summary:
From fiber optic communications between medical offices and hospitals in and around Leesburg, to advanced services for schools, students and a business park in Quincy, to a wireless “Downtown Canopy” in Tallahassee, cities and towns throughout the State of Florida are taking charge of their futures by investing in new, exciting and innovative broadband technologies that attract businesses, educate the young, and improve the quality of life. For many communities, the availability and affordability of broadband services is just as important to their future as roads, schools, water systems, airports and convention centers have been in the past. Unfortunately, legislation has been designed to restrict or inhibit the ability of Florida’s municipalities to provide these vital public services to their communities which puts millions of Floridians at risk of being left behind in the digital revolution.
The Florida Municipal Electric Association does not have this paper on its site anymore.