Study: Publicly owned broadband can spur net neutrality

Nonprofit research firm says publicly owned broadband infrastructure is the key to healthy competition

Publicly owned information infrastructure is the key to healthy competition, universal access and nondiscriminatory networks, according to a nonprofit firm that promotes "environmentally sound" economic development strategies.

According to a new report titled "Localizing the Internet: Five Ways Public Ownership Solves the U.S. Broadband Problem," the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) argues that public ownership of municipal wireline and wireless broadband access infrastructure can generate significant return for localities in terms of payback and revenue generation to pay for other municipal services. ILSR works with citizen groups, governments and private businesses in developing policies designed to extract the maximum value from local resources.

Even though many telecommunications companies are offering to build a citywide wireless or even wired network at little or no upfront cost to the city, those arrangements require the public sector to enter into extended contracts to pay millions for their own services over the new privately owned network, the firm contends.

"Cities owe it to themselves and their citizens to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of public ownership," says Becca Vargo Daggett, an ILSR researcher and the report's author.

"They do themselves and their households and businesses a disservice if they do not seriously explore the costs and benefits of a publicly owned network."

ILSR also notes that cities that own infrastructure like roads and water pipelines should not fear owning the physical information network.

"Concerns about obsolescence are overstated," Vargo Daggett states. "Fiber optics is the gold standard, with essentially unlimited capacity and a life span measured in decades. Wireless technology is rapidly evolving, but its price is low, and the payback period is short."

And unlike investments in traditional infrastructure, an investment in information networks can generate a significant return by generating revenue that can pay for other municipal services, Vargo Daggett states.

ILSR's report highlights five arguments for public ownership:

1. High-speed information networks are essential public infrastructure: Just as high-quality road systems are needed to transport people and goods, high-quality wired and wireless networks are needed to transport information. Public ownership of the physical network does not necessarily mean the city either manages the network or provides services. Cities own roads, but they do not operate freight companies or deliver pizzas, ILSR argues.

2. Public ownership ensures competition: A publicly owned, "open access" network can be open to all service providers on the same terms, thereby encouraging the entry of new service providers. Customers can choose broadband service providers according to the combination of price, speed and service that fits their needs. This is particularly important given that consolidation in the telecommunications industry and a hands-off policy by the federal government has combined to lessen competition among private suppliers, ILSR asserts.

3. Publicly owned networks can generate significant revenue: Telecommunications networks are different from traditional public works, such as roads, because they can be self-financing both in terms of initial construction costs and ongoing upgrades.

4. Public ownership can ensure universal access: Publicly owned road, water and sewer, and sidewalk networks connect all households without discrimination. All have access to the same services, though they may purchase different amounts. Private companies, on the other hand, have incentives to upgrade their networks only where it will be the most profitable, according to ILSR.

5. Public ownership can ensure nondiscriminatory networks: With publicly owned networks, customers can be sure that any traffic-management mechanisms are necessary and not added to improve profitability. Communities can insist on neutrality from any service provider that uses the network. Or if the market is large enough to support multiple service providers, a publicly owned network can leave neutrality to the market, knowing that unhappy customers can easily change service providers, the firm contends.

The ILSR report supports some points in another recent study on municipal Wi-Fi conducted by the Reason Foundation, but counters others. For example, Reason contends that municipal broadband will not operate like any other utility, because it will always face price and performance competition from services offered by telecommunications providers.

Moreover, the continual improvement in performance and drop in price of broadband technology will be difficult for municipalities to match and will quickly lead to technology obsolescence, Reason asserts, requiring more capital outlay and potentially increasing taxes.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jim Duffy

Network World
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?