By Mari Silbey
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.
May 18, 2012
Really folks, do you want your local town council deciding who gets service and on what terms? We've had "muni" fiber for over a decade, and continue to spend millions of tax dollars to keep it afloat, and yet, none of us peasants have rights to access it, while they continue to add tax after tax. We have a "muni" Wi-Fi that likewise, we pay for. And yet, we can't use it, except in a few select zones, and its restricted to short bursts. The city has torn up the streets a half-dozen times in the last ten years in the pursuit of this utopian nonsense, claiming internal cost savings (retiring 3G modems they never needed), and yet, they can't seem to achieve simple goals, like keeping cars moving. Our local MSO and Cable company offer competitive broadband services. Not cheap, not the best billing systems, not the best customer service, but definitely competitive if you actually read your bill and negotiate every 6-24 months. I wonder what it would be like if the city had been successful in running either one of them out of town, as they've tried in the past. This celebratory article doesn't address the real issues. 1) The last mile is a natural monopoly. 2) Most households are unwilling to pay the cost of FTTH. Why do you think VZ abandons Fios? Without a sufficient uptake rate, the monthly fees never pay off the investment. That holds true whether private or public. ISDN didn't happen here, because it cost $2K/household in 1984 dollars. DSL succeeded because it cost a fraction thereof. We have to wait for similar cost reductions for FTTH, before it can be practical to deploy to lower-density settings, at monthly rates low enough that the populous will adopt en-masse. But what we don't need is yet another government entity controlling our lives.
Great stuff, this is the only way many communities are going to get a decent broadband service, we are doing the same in the UK too, and hopefully more will follow. Just Farmers Doing IT, do the job once and do it right. more on our website, just google B4RN if you want to see our full plan and some jfdi videos of our men of grit in action. Power to the people. #da12bb
This is a good article and I'm grateful for Smart Planet recognizing our work. To start a conversation, I would nitpick one comment from it. I'm not going to argue that no muni networks have failed, but I'm curious at the suggestion that Seattle's Wi-Fi network failed. By what measure? Sure, it didn't take become a competitor to Comcast, but I don't think that was the goal. It provided a free service for people that they used. In the end, it was shut down because it was no longer a good use to taxpayer money. That does not necessarily mean it never was a good use of taxpayer money (since I have brought it up, I should note that using taxpayer money is a rarity in financing community broadband). The main failure in broadband is the private sector cable and telephone companies. Unlike other essential utilities, broadband is priced extraordinarily high and it is far less reliable than anything would accept from electric or natural gas companies.
The only Massachusetts towns with municipal cable have municipal power companies that do both. The last new municipal power company founded in Massachusetts was founded in 1929 because big power has bought generations of politicians who have made it legally impossible for residents to found their own power company. I am sure big cable is now in on this state scam. Please note with the number of registered republicans in the state consistently fluctuating between 10 and 15 percent it has been generations of predominantly democrat politicians being owned by big power.
The funding model for it was unsustainable given the poor management and high operating costs driven by a poor initial design. The excessive cost overruns driven by both of the above killed the project. Basically the people running it acted like the money to fund it grew on trees. There was and continues to be little accountability for the cost overruns.
Communities in Western Mass have been working toward publicly owned networks and Leverett is very close to being the first to do it. They call themselves Wired West. And some of the suburbs of Boston have started conversations on municipalizing the private power company after their failures following blizzards and hurricanes recently.
Communitynets: Yes you are correct that Leverett has voted at its 2012 Annual Town Meeting to build our own fiber optic network using town tax dollars. The vote was 91% in favor. We vote on the Debt exclusion funding this Saturday. By bonding to build the network using tax dollars from the real estate tax we the tax payers will own the network and operate it as a non-profit cooperative municipal network. In Massachusetts we are doing this under the Municipal Lighting Plant legislation from the turn of the early 20th century. The savings the average home owner in town will realize over the cost of the incumbant telecommunications services will exceed the tax increase substantially. After 20 years when the bonds are paid off the savings will be even greater. Everybody in town that has a utility hookup gets high speed internet and telephone service on a symetrical gb speed FTTH network for a fixed montly price that is less than half what the incumbant charges to provide asymetrical and significantlty slower service (which is by th way not available in Leverett). See what New England local town meeting government can if it trys! Now wouldn't you like your. To paraphase: Really folks, don't you want your local town council deciding to provide this kind of service and on these terms? Richard from Leverett