Is MuniBroadband For Public Good?


St. Paul-based economist and writer Edward Lotterman takes a very dispassionate view of the current debate about municipal owned broadband networks. “There is no clear right or wrong answer on this issue,” he writes today in the Pioneer Press. I agree with him – a part of me says that technology gets obsolete so quickly that it doesn’t make sense for munis to own their broadband infrastructure. Its not like water systems of electricity grids, where shifts happen. Another part of me says, well if big companies and incumbents don’t want to sell a service in a small town, then there is no option. I agree with Lotterman – this whole thing is a divisive and passionate issue without any real data. That said, the big issue which bothers me the most – is the anti-capitalistic stance taken by some local politicians who are selling out by introducing legislations to put a damper on the muni-broadband movement. Meanwhile St. Paul city council has decided to start analysis of a citywide wireless network.


Robert Berger

If Muni’s would focus on building “Layer 1″ infrastructure (Conduit/Dark Fiber/Open Access Collocation for handoff of fiber) then it would be exactly like roads, sewer and water utilities.

The muni’s would not be dealing with easily obsoleted technology. Conduit builds would have a 50 year lifetime and the dark fiber would have at least a 10 year lifetime. It could be properly funded by Muni bonds and maintened by muni “men in trucks”, very little tech.

The services would all be provided by competitive service providers (which could be a mix of commercial and “coop” if there was a market desire for that). The competitive service providers would have open access at cost+ rates to the dark fiber to homes and businesses on a link by link basis. They, not the muni’s would “lite” the fiber. A whole ecosystem of service providers would be enabled this way (fiber lighters, VoIP, Video on Demand, etc) could leverage the local, open access collocation.

This would truely open up broadband and deliver the proper mix of municipal / commercial ballance. But it would still piss off the incumbents, who should be allowed to go out of business from such a disruptive technological advance if they can’t cope.

Om Malik

Om you’re right – the real argument centers around state-wide muni bans.

There are so many methods of connectivity and funding munis can pursue, it’s impossible to make blanket statements about how they’d be outdated to quickly, aren’t a good idea, etc.

You’d need to argue them case by case, which is how it should be.

Statewide muni bans are the bells and cable companies making that decision for us.

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