A growing number of U.S. cities are voicing their dissatisfaction with the Internet connectivity their telecommunication and cable companies provide, and are seeking to build their own municipal broadband networks. Standing in their way are a web of state laws that prohibit or restrict municipalities from providing broadband to residents.
Such laws are on the books in about 21 states, including populous ones like California, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania. Local communities want the FCC to preempt such laws that they say hamper economic growth.
Municipal Broadband as a Public Utility
Many city leaders believe high-speed Internet is as much a public utility as electricity and water. Fast and reliable broadband is a necessity for attracting investments and jobs and to compete in the 21st century. About 130 municipalities offer broadband to residents. Of these, 89 serve up speeds of 1 Gbps.
But these cities are far outnumbered by ones that rely on telecom companies for their Internet connections. If the telecoms won't deliver a faster Internet than the present average of 20-25 Mbps downstream, cities are determined to do it themselves. The FCC has signaled that it is on their side.
A ruling by the FCC on laws limiting municipal broadband in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected on Feb. 26. If the ruling supports local choice, it will almost certainly be challenged by telecoms.
We are following the legal, political and regulatory issues as they unfold. In addition, we're equally interested in the technology and business models of municipal broadband networks.
Municipal Broadband Business Models
There are three models for delivering community-based Internet service.
Municipal networks, such as the one in Chattanooga, TN, and Wilson, NC. The Electric Power Board, Chattanooga's publicly-owned utility, built its own fiber-optic network, which it used to bring 1-Gbps Internet service to its customers.
Unlike Chattanooga, many municipal broadband networks don't carry the Internet all the way to the customer's premises. For example, in Scott County, MN, towns and cities have built their own middle-mile networks, leaving the last mile to the private sector.
Public-private partnerships, which New York City is pursuing in its plan to put up 10,000 pillars offering free wireless Internet in various parts of the city. Each pillar will beam 1-Gbps wireless signals in a radius of 150 feet. Funded entirely by advertising, the project will purportedly be free of cost to taxpayers.
Agreements with private companies such as Google, which is laying down fiber-optic networks in a handful of cities, with more on the horizon.
The Role of Wireless in Municipal Broadband
Wireless offers flexible and relatively inexpensive methods of bringing high-speed Internet to cities. RESOLUTE has provided wireless Internet to locations that cover hundreds of square miles. Wireless can be deployed in backhaul or last-mile applications, where it can help keep budgets manageable while giving reliable service. Several cities have already installed public Wi-Fi networks, and if more municipalities start building their own broadband networks, we anticipate more widespread use of wireless in the future.
For more information on how RESOLUTE can help bring wireless broadband to your municipality check out our capabilities statement. And if you need help writing a proposal use our model RFP.