Community-owned broadband is one way to bring fiber to smaller markets, but many states restrict the practice. Researcher Christopher Mitchell argues that it's time for a bit more Roosevelt-style localism in US broadband.
After campaigning on building a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network in Seattle, Mayor McGinn has decided to maintain leadership at the Department of Information Technology. Department head Bill Schrier will stay on, continuing his work that lays the groundwork for a community-owned network.
He said he expects the city to apply for federal stimulus money in the first part of the year to move toward that goal. In addition to improving broadband access in homes, the initiative could help Seattle City Light implement smart-grid infrastructure, and improve public safety communications.
"Mayor-elect McGinn ran on a platform of bringing fiber to every home and business in Seattle, something I've advocated for several years," Schrier commented.
No post discussing broadband in Seattle is complete without a reference to Glenn Fleishman - who both wrote another story discussing the situation and then patiently responds to many comments in the thread below it. Discussing Tacoma's publicly owned Click! network, he notes that Tacoma's investment benefited everyone:
Click being built actually helped what has become Qwest and Comcast: by creating a market and making it feasible for professionals who need high-speed Internet access in Tacoma to live there, Click spurred the two incumbents to improve their networks, compete, and gain new revenue. Comcast actually thanked Tacoma Power publicly years ago; not sure it would today, but it was seen as a big boost for the viability of competitive broadband.
Photo used under creative commons license from flickr.
In this short article, Joanne and Ken discuss why Colorado Municipalities need to think about broadband within their community and why Colorado law makes it more difficult for communities in Colorado to ensure they have modern broadband networks.
Even as there is growing consensus nationally that broadband is a key driver of economic competitiveness, the communications industry is not meeting our growing demand for bandwidth and speed in an affordable manner. The U.S. has slipped to 16th in the world in per capita penetration as of May 2007, compared to a ranking of fourth just six years ago. We face a broadband monopoly or duopoly of incumbent cable and telephone companies, with the possibility of no broadband in many rural areas. DSL and cable modem service are not universally available, and even where they are frequently fail to meet business and educational needs. Small and medium businesses cannot compete without affordable, high-speed access. Many businesses will not locate in areas without very high speed access. Homebased businesses fail to grow because of slow Internet speeds. Lack of fast, affordable broadband also precludes development of the collaborative, distributed work that is a hallmark of the emerging global economy.
However, short-sited politicians in the capitol have created roadblocks to community broadband networks:
With support of large communications providers, Colorado passed Senate Bill 152 in 2005, which placed a significant roadblock in front of any local government efforts to invest in broadband deployment. Essentially, local governments are prohibited from investing in these networks, even in the case of public-private partnerships where the customer interaction is through a private sector partner, unless the project is approved by local voters. While problematic, a well-planned project should arguably not have a problem receiving voter approval. However, one of the unintended consequences of the legislation was its failure to anticipate the federal stimulus dollars, and the intent of the federal government to send those dollars to communities with “shovel ready” projects.
Colorado communities are disadvantaged compared to other local governments if we can only represent that our ability to spend these dollars is contingent upon a public vote.
Highland, Illinois, having overwhelmingly approved a referendum in April, 2009 to own and operate a fiber-to-the-premises system, has continued to examine the potential for a publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network. Most of the local government is supportive but one councilmember is vehemently opposed, leading to a ""boom or bust?" article in the local paper.
Interestingly, the city had a significant outage in 2008 due to a fiber cut outside of town.
The new redundancy brought by fiber that would mean a decrease in the chances for a repeat of the winter 2008 when a third-party contractor working to put up a communications tower for AmerenIP cut a fiber optic cable near Maryville, knocking out phone service, most cellular services and Internet service in Highland for nearly seven hours, Latham [city manager] said.
Worried about the future, Latham then spoke with the incumbent provider:
“There was another one for a short span six weeks after that and I spoke with a Verizon official if there were any plans to come in a build a tieback to create redundancy and they said no. The city is fighting for the best interests of this community.”
Whether Highland can get broadband stimulus funding in round 2 or not, they are on the right path for ensuring their community is ready for the future.
The Jackson Energy Authority (JEA) network now has over 16,000 subscribers and offers speeds up to 100 Mbps for local businesses and 25 Mbps for standard residential users.
Jackson is considered one of the most technologically advanced cities in the U.S. We have four competitors in the market with AT&T, Bell South, Charter and JEA. We computed that over $8 million to $9 million has been saved by residents in this city when compared to other cities of its size because of the competition.
These are the kind of hard-to-quantify savings that too often go unnoticed in discussions about the value of publicly owned broadband projects. What is the value of competition? How much economic development has occurred directly from the JEA network and indirectly from the lower prices and greater investments that result from competition?
I stumbled across an interesting article about a small community in Illinois - Rochelle - that has used smart public investments to ensure a healthy future. Their utility has long offered broadband, both fast connections to businesses and Wi-Fi to ensure everyone had some method of access.
Just as they now have a city-owned utility offering broadband, they also have a public power company... and a city-owned railroad track connecting to other lines... and a publicly owned airport. All of this public ownership doesn't seem to have the town in an uproar over some "public v. private" ideological dispute -- because it has generated so many jobs and community benefits.
This is another example of how the "public v. private" distinction in telecommunications is mislabeled. It should be called "AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and a few others v. everyone else." The entire private sector benefits from smart public investments in infrastructure, minus a few monopolistic telcos who could very well also benefit if they would work with us.
As someone who has long researched and followed developments in Burlington Telecom (BT), the city-owned triple-play full fiber-to-the-home network in Vermont, recent developments between BT and the Mayor's office have been deeply disappointing. For those who haven't heard, BT is in the middle of a major controversy -- and it is hard to tell just what is going on (for background prior to current problems, read my Burlington Telecom Case Study and Fact Sheet).
I have wanted to comment on the situation for many weeks but have been waiting as each day seems offer another piece of the BT puzzle. I'll be offering more commentary about it in the future. However, I do not want to the let the current problems lend any credence to the idea that BT has failed. BT is caught in the middle of a political controversy around the Mayor but should continue providing the best telecom services available in the community.
BT has two main problems currently:
- It has not passed the entire city within the timeline to which it agreed in receiving its Certificate of Public Good (CPG)
- BT has, apparently, borrowed $17 million from the city's pool (used generally for short-term financing of projects) in contravention of its CPG which states that any money borrowed from the City must be paid back within 60 days.
This CPG condition makes running a network more difficult for BT than it would for a company like Comcast - who can readily self-finance short-term borrowing. Across the U.S., communities have to deal with laws and regulations that benefit private companies over public networks.
When the economy fell apart, BT was unable to refinance its debt to continue its expansion and chose to borrow from the City to continue connecting new customers. This was the right decision - the CPG did not anticipate such conditions and the terms for outside financing in late 2008 were wretched.
I say "apparently" borrowed above because it is far from clear if all of those funds actually went to BT. As Steve Ross explains here, it is not even clear if BT really required all that it borrowed from the City. Until the Mayor can produce a thorough explanation, I think it prudent to...Read more
TMCNET interviews Jory Wolf - the CIO of Santa Monica's Information Systems Department - about their application for broadband stimulus funds. Santa Monica has long used its publicly owned network to expand broadband access in the community.
Our Santa Monica City Net and City WiFi (News - Alert) project will provide the equipment and connections required to expand the City’s free WiFi service that delivers Internet access to the public at our libraries, open space areas, community centers, homeless shelter, senior centers and animal shelters. In addition, our project will provide a connection to over 200 ISPs to obtain affordable broadband options to local businesses and increase the competitiveness of our country’s preeminent post-production companies and intellectual exports located in Santa Monica, Calif.
South Hadley, a small town in Massachusetts, may expand its modest fiber network (currently connecting schools, police, and town hall to others in town. Its municipal power company is evaluating options.
Baltimore City Paper ran a column discussing the Monticello, MN, city-owned network and the attacks against it by TDS Telecom. This accounting of the history has some errant details, but I found it fascinating how far the Monticello story has spread.
Salisbury, a community in North Carolina building a city-owned full fiber-to-the-home network, has run into an unexpected difficulty: naming the new network.
To put it simply, all the good names are taken.
Mike Crowell, director of broadband services — he jokes that he is the director of BS — says the city can't find a name that it can both trademark and get a domain name for.
The story has some entertaining suggestions - but the reason I wanted to note the article is because it ends with this:
In coming weeks, the city will be purchasing and outfitting a marketing trailer, which it can send into neighborhoods and to community events to explain the new cable utility and get people excited about what's around the bend. The trailer will be plastered, of course, with the system's chosen name.
This is a great marketing method - particularly if the trailer has computers showing what is possible with the new network in direct comparison to existing offers. Wilson's Greenlight Network also used this approach and reported that it was very successful.
South Carolina was unique in being the only state where the public controlled the spectrum available for WiMax and could have built a state-wide broadband network. Instead, they chose to sell it off to the private sector for a pittance.
Despite state-created barriers to publicly owned broadband networks in South Carolina, the town of Hartsville is studying the feasibility of a city-owned network. The new Mayor is supporting this initiative:
Pennington spoke about a proposed broadband initiative he is pushing that would enable the city to create a fiber optic network and offer broadband services such as high speed internet, cable television and digital telephone service to city residents and businesses.
Hartsville City Council has approved funding up to $5,000 to pay for a feasibility study into the prospect of such an initiative. Officials are...
As the FCC continues to formulate a National Broadband Plan, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has submitted comments [pdf] about publicly owned networks in response to the Request for Comments #7: "Comment Sought on the Contribution of Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Government to Broadband." In our comments, we highlight the importance of publicly owned broadband networks by noting many success stories and offering details on networks from Chattanooga, Burlington, Monticello, and Powell, Wyoming. We also offer some comments about middle-mile networks and networks that connect core anchor institutions, like libraries and schools.