Thinking Tech

150 communities are doing broadband on their own terms

Posting in Cities

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has mapped municipal broadband networks in the United States, and has a recent study on the economic impacts in three cities.

If you follow broadband at all, you’re probably aware of some of the high-profile municipal networks in the United States, including Chattanooga’s gigabit fiber initiative. However, you may not know that there are 150 communities around the country with their own publicly-owned broadband networks. The Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) has mapped these communities with details on network type and population coverage. It’s also included an overlay of which states have put up regulatory barriers in an attempt to stop municipal broadband.

The ILSR’s interactive map (static image above) was first posted in 2011, but it continues to stay relevant with updated information including links to new stories and research about community-owned networks. One report linked from the map is a recent one titled “Broadband at the Speed of Light.” The April report covers three stories of municipal broadband, detailing both the challenges and the opportunities present in major Internet infrastructure projects. ILSR’s conclusion from the study is that the rewards in these three cases have far outweighed the costs. The Institute also believes communities around the country should have the legal right to build their own networks if it’s in their best interest.

From the report’s executive summary:

In the wake of Verizon and AT&T ceasing expansion of FiOS and U-Verse respectively, communities that do not invest in their own next generation networks will likely not see any significant broadband investment in the near future. The question is not whether any or every community should build its own network but who should make that decision. Given the impressive results from Bristol, Chattanooga, and Lafayette, states should respect the conclusion from the Federal Communications Commission in its National Broadband Plan: let communities decide for themselves.

Certainly not all municipal broadband projects work, as evidenced by Seattle's recent Wi-Fi failure. However, the success stories show just how important the economic impacts are when they do. Here are just a few of the results reported in the ILSR study.

  • Bristol Virginia Utilities has cited returns from its broadband infrastructure including over $50 million in new private investment, generating 2,000 new, well-paying jobs.
  • Lafayette was ranked the sixth fastest growing economy in the nation in September 2011 by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
  • According to a study published in the  Journal of Applied Business Research, the network in Chattanooga could generate at least $350 million of social benefits, and over 2,600 jobs over the first 10 years from triple-play services in one county alone.

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure