City leaders told residents in Spring Hill (KS) that their notoriously unreliable internet service would soon improve, igniting hope that they could effortlessly stream Netflix or pay the bills online without relying on a mobile hot spot. But recently in some quarters, hopes for fiber optic internet at every home and business have twisted into suspicions over how the city government operates.
The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), a program launched in 2008 to connect all Californians to high-speed Internet, was an early success. It helped build middle mile open access fiber to hard-to-serve communities and delivered high-speed access to areas that never had Internet. It funded fiber-to-the-home to public housing, ensuring low income users had the same high-speed access that wealthy neighborhoods had. And it was rapidly closing the digital divide that low income urban and rural Californians faced, due to years of neglect from incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Cities with their own broadband utilities and those looking to start them are hoping to disconnect Iowa statehouse proposals restricting their operation. A bill introduced in the Iowa Senate could prevent existing municipal communications utilities from offering discounted or competitive rates. It also would limit financing options for cities working to build their own fiber networks to provide internet, television and phone service to residents.
City Utilities, Springfield's (MO) city-owned electric utility, recently announced plans to expand its fiber optic network to every home in the city and lease excess fiber—on a nonexclusive basis—to the internet service provider (ISP) CenturyLink. CenturyLink, in turn, will offer high-speed fiber broadband services citywide and pay for marketing and customer service costs.
Municipal broadband networks can have a positive impact on their communities. Municipal networks, often managed and operated fully or partially by local governments, exhibit a high level of responsiveness to consumer needs and lower prices than larger internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast.
Conventional wisdom says a town with less than 200 people wouldn’t have the resources to establish and maintain high-speed Internet for its residents. But Mount Washington, located in Berkshire County (MA) contradicted such wisdom in Nov 2017 when it activated its municipal fiber broadband service. From one angle, the case of Mount Washington is a miracle.
Nearly half of Americans do not have an internet connection that meets minimum broadband speeds. Moreover, a staggering number of poor people of color do not have home internet access of any kind. And, across the board, Americans are charged some of the highest prices for internet service in the developed world. These are all symptoms of a much larger, structural problem: the corporate capture of the pipes, wires, and other infrastructure that powers the internet.
Frustrated with limited deployments, high prices and slow speeds, some municipalities have decided to take matters into their own hands, installing community networks through muni-fiber. Some cities are installing a conduit system with dark fiber, which gives them the choice to lease to broadband providers or switch to a municipal network in the future. A low-cost, low-risk option, the system allows ISPs to place and maintain their own fiber-optic cables. The city manages the asset leasing and creates an open platform for local provider competition.
The $226.8 million investment American electric power and telecommunications company EPB launched in 2009 on fiber optic technology has helped to transform EPB and Chattanooga (TN). By boasting the fastest citywide internet service in the Western Hemisphere with Gig service in 2010 and 10 Gig service by 2015, EPB secured Chattanooga's claim as "the Gig City" and has helped anchor the Innovation District, with many businesses developed or drawn to Chattanooga by the fast internet links. High-speed connections from EPB helped attract and grow such online startups as the moving service Bellhop
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) vetoed a bill which would have directed the state to study whether a state-owned and operated internet service would be feasible in New York. Gov Cuomo said it was “well-intentioned” but that it would be too expensive to complete. Still, Gov Cuomo suggested that he isn’t opposed to the idea of municipal broadband. The governor said in Dec 2019 that he and lawmakers might revisit the idea of a feasibility study on municipal broadband in early 2020.