There's more to municipal broadband than public funding, says report

City funding of entire networks is just one option for local officials looking to improve broadband networks, a report says

About 30 U.S. cities have launched or are launching municipal broadband networks, according to this graphic from a report published on July 21, 2015.

About 30 U.S. cities have launched or are launching municipal broadband networks, according to this graphic from a report published on July 21, 2015.

U.S. communities looking for faster broadband service than incumbent ISPs provide have alternatives to the increasingly controversial choice of seeking to publicly fund a network, according to a new handbook for city officials.

Public funding of broadband is just one of several possibilities, according to "The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook: a Guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable Abundant Bandwidth," released Tuesday by Gig.U, a coalition of universities focused on building high-speed broadband networks, and the Benton Foundation, an advocacy group focused on media and telecom issues.

Most city officials say that their local broadband networks aren't good enough in the long term, according to the report, which advises that "the time to begin thinking about faster speeds, more competition and better service is now. Network upgrades do not happen overnight."

When Gig.U launched in 2011, "there was no map for communities that wanted to accelerate next-generation network deployment," said Blair Levin, Gig.U's executive director. The new guidelines aim to fill that gap.

Close to 30 cities across the U.S. have launched or are launching their own broadband projects, but one size does not fit all, the report said. A handful of cities, including Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have built and funded their own networks, but others have taken different approaches.

Mesa, Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, have built networks and leased them to private ISPs, the report noted. Washington, D.C., and St. Louis have built partial networks open to targeted customers, such as businesses and schools. Several cities, including Kansas City, Missouri, and Louisville, Kentucky, have partnered with existing ISPs.

Other cities, including San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore, have built Wi-Fi networks that are available in some neighborhoods.

Each approach has some benefits and some risks, the report noted. Cities that fund their own networks have local control and can provide universal coverage, but there are risks to the cities' finances and to the long-term sustainability of the broadband networks. City-funded networks also face opposition from incumbent ISPs, the report said.

A public and private partnership, on the other hand, subjects the city to little financial risk, the report said. But those networks can have uneven coverage and partnership conflicts can come up over the long term.

Read more: Online map helps Kiwis find best broadband options for home and business

City-funded broadband networks have run into opposition from incumbent ISPs, free-market advocates and some Republicans in state legislatures and in Congress. Critics argue that tax money shouldn't support networks that compete with private broadband providers. In a handful of cases, municipal broadband projects have run into problems related to long-term funding.

City-funded broadband networks are unfair to private ISPs, Randolph May, president of the free-market think-tank the Free State Foundation, wrote in March 2014. "Government systems pose inherent conflicts of interest with private-sector companies attempting to compete by investing tens of millions of dollars in building out new broadband networks," he said.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission stepped into the fray in February, when it voted to overturn large parts of two state laws that limit local governments from funding and building broadband networks. That decision faces potential legal and congressional challenges.

Public funding for broadband networks is a legitimate option, said Gig.U's Levin, primary author of the FCC's national broadband plan released in 2010. But communities should decide for themselves what direction to take, he said.

"Nearly every community we worked with saw public money as a last resort, when no other options for next generation networks were available," he said. "But our group view was that the decision should be made by the local community."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentbroadbandregulationtelecommunicationU.S. Federal Communications CommissionGovernment use of ITFree State FoundationRandolph MayBlair LevinBenton FoundationGig.U

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

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?