Municipal broadband gets a leg up from FCC, but challenges remain

Like many other rural and semi-rural counties, Ashtabula County lags urban counties in broadband availability and capabilities.High-speed Internet is essential to businesses, schools, government, and households. We need to keep abreast of trends and developments related to this important infrastructure. The following article abut municipally owned broadband is from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).

Last February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) struck down laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that had prevented expansion of municipal broadband networks (Gigaom). It was a big win for municipal broadband advocates and has emboldened other cities looking to build high-speed Internet infrastructure with public money.

However, it didn’t take long for the attorney generals in both states to challenge the FCC’s ruling (Pacific Standard). Opponents of municipal broadband argue that a public entity should not be competing to provide a service that they contend is better suited for the private sector. But most laws that restrict municipal networks are derived from telecom industry lobbying, rather than vigilant stewardship of public finances.

A key asset of high-speed Internet is its shareability among customers, providing great potential to deliver affordable options in low-income areas (Public CEO). But private Internet service providers have terms of service that restrict users from sharing connections and costs with neighbors and don’t service many unprofitable, low-income and rural communities. Chattanooga, Tenn., has offered municipal broadband since 2009 and recently approved discounted rates of $27 per month for qualifying low-income individuals (Next City).

Challenges remain, especially to finance these networks. Even world-class tech cities like Seattle are struggling to get a city-wide network up and running (GeekWire). A feasibility study found that it would cost between $480 million and $665 million to build out a municipal network in Seattle. To provide broadband to all residents at $75 per month, Seattle would need 43 percent of its citizens to purchase from the public entity. Even Chattanooga has a “take rate” of only 33 percent. Seattle is exploring other options to fund it, such as using property taxes, forming a public-private partnership, or pursuing federal funds.

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