Municipalities and Telcos Fight for Broadband Rights

    Google Fiber, the Gigabit fiber project that the search, and apparently everything, giant is rolling out in Kansas City, is not the only ultra-high-speed connectivity game around.

    Indeed, Bristol, which according to GigaOm announced its plans this week, is the second town just within Tennessee to launch municipal networks at that speed. Bristol Tennessee Essential Services, the site says, will use passive optical network (PON) gear from Alcatel Lucent to offer 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) speeds to businesses and homes in a 280-square-mile service area. Eighteen months ago, the site said, Chattanooga became the first U.S. city to offer such data speeds to residents. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman featured the earlier project on the day before Thanksgiving.

    The speeds certainly are the sexiest element of the projects. What also is important to note, however, is that these initiatives are being undertaken by the private sector. This CitiesSpeak post — part one of two — discusses the advantages of municipalities building their own high-speed networks.

    There certainly is a bit of history in this. Municipalities have been building their own networks for decades. The business didn’t explode simply because the advent of public Wi-Fi removed much of the overt need. The beauty is that a community doing it themselves eliminates many of the obstacles inherent in commercial deployments. Indeed, the argument is that the towns, in their one-off builds, can do the job far better than the regional and national builds of the telcos.

    This is how CitiesSpeak positions it:

    Because the private sector may be unwilling to connect everyone in a community, a city-owned network may be the only way to ensure everyone has fast, affordable and reliable access to the Internet.  And the benefits of a city-managed network go beyond universal access.  Many times municipal network speeds can faster and more affordable, comparably speaking. Other benefits are that these networks can lead to improved and more efficient public service delivery …

    The dynamic is an interesting one. Entrepreneurial companies such as Google can pick and choose where to build their futuristic networks and are much freer in what they do once they get the local government on their side. For instance, Google Fiber is said to have gotten a sweetheart deal from Kansas City. The phone and cable companies are far more constrained in how they operate.

    What they can do, however, is hire a lot of lawyers. One of the goals of the carriers always has been to squelch this form of competition. At Forbes, writers from the Institute of Local Self-Reliance and Common Cause cooperated on a frustrated post of why they think the United States has fallen in broadband connectivity:

    Why is this happening? One reason is that across much of the nation, commercial broadband companies are using their political and economic clout to stifle competition, particularly from municipalities. Individually and through trade groups and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the industry is bent on shutting down existing publicly-owned broadband systems and blocking the development of new ones.

    The post goes into great depth to their objections to a post at The Daily Caller by a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) on municipal broadband. The back and forth is there for anyone who is interested. The bottom line is that intense enmity exists between the two camps and any attempt of a municipality to build its own network likely will be met with whatever resistance the incumbent can muster, lest a precedent be set in which it is easier for communities to take matters into their own hands.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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