Cable Tech

Dutch, Swedes Rule Muni BB

The U.S. is abuzz with talk of municipal networks, but Sweden and the Netherlands have emerged as the biggest muni breeding grounds, and both are far ahead of the rest of the world in numbers of working deployments. (See Light Readers Embrace Muni Nets .)

As municipally owned broadband networks are considered by cities around the world, many are looking to the Dutch and the Scandinavians for success stories and best practices. (See Muni Networks: The Public's Not Buying.)

"You probably think of the Netherlands as wooden shoes and windmills, but we are also very proud of what we’ve done in broadband," said Peter van Eijk, director of the Netherlands' Almere Knowledge City Foundation, when speaking at the Broadband Cities 2005 conference in Utah last week.

The foundation is a public/private broadband partnership run by the municipality of Almere.

Van Eijk said 19 out of every 100 homes in the Netherlands, or 3.45 million households, now have broadband connections. That puts the country second only to Korea, where 25 homes per 100 are connected. Van Eijk said 600,000 Dutch businesses use broadband connections, too.

"We think we have the chance to be the leader in broadband in the next couple of years, so we are acting now," Van Eijk said.

Many of the Netherlands' community broadband projects were made possible by grant money from the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

And Sweden isn't far behind the Netherlands. "There are 289 municipalities in Sweden, and over 200 now have their own networks," said Lars Hedberg, secretary general of the Swedish Urban Network Association (SSNF). Hedberg says 29 of those networks have been linked together so far, and the rest will be interconnected within 5 years.

SSNF is a non-profit trade organization in which 300 companies and municipalities cooperate on municipal broadband deployments.

Founders of Utah's Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) network credit Sweden with inventing the business model now being adopted by most planned and operating municipal networks. (See Utah's Broadband War.) It is a "wholesale" model where the municipality owns the network, but private sector companies provide the actual broadband services running over the network.

Several members of the Swedish and Dutch delegations say government ownership of broadband infrastructure is perceived very differently than in the U.S.

"There is some kind of cowboy mentality [in the U.S.] that you don’t need a government," said Jonas Bigersson, founder and CEO of the large Scandinavian broadband services company, Bredbandsbolaget AB (B2). (See Telenor on Billion-Dollar Spree.)

B2 was the second-largest Scandinavian broadband services provider with 335,000 subscribers before being sold to (Nasdaq: TELN) in May. (See Telenor Buys B2, CyberCity.)

Bigersson believes some kinds of infrastructure, like broadband networks, are better left to the ownership of government entities: "What I think the Americans will learn is that there is such a thing as natural monopolies -- government systems where they can pay for an airport and write it off and pay for it over 100 years. What private business can do that?"

Bigersson stressed that the emergence of new networks is the only way to spark competition and hold broadband prices down. "When B2 launched service in Sweden, the Swedish incumbent provider lowered its broadband price by 99 percent within 24 hours." (See B2 Picks Ericsson for VDSL2.)

Bigersson believes the dominance of cable MSO and telco broadband providers in the U.S. has stifled innovation. "America is now where a lot of [broadband services] companies want to be, but traditionally America has been: 'You can put innovation in, but nothing comes out.'

"Skype would have been an American company if it weren’t for the black hole of innovation here." [Ed. note: Well, it's an American company now.]

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

digits 12/5/2012 | 2:59:27 AM
re: Dutch, Swedes Rule Muni BB Makes we wonder who's been voting in the latest Light Reading poll, which includes a question about municipal networks. At the moment, a majority of readers are against taxpayers' money being used to build such networks -- wonder if that would change if the majority of voters were European?
fiber_r_us 12/5/2012 | 2:59:25 AM
re: Dutch, Swedes Rule Muni BB The US is basically ignorant and in denial about the quality of broadband access and the content that flows over it. Most of the folks have been "convinced" that 200Kb/s+ is "broadband". So, why would the populous support spending additional money when they already have "broadband"? While other countries are investing in real broadband, advancing their populations connectivity and, therefore, breadth of knowledge about the world; we would rather sit on our asses and be IV-fed whatever crap the media and carrier folks deem "best" for us. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think the US has the "best" media infrastructure. Perhaps folks should get out more.
voyce_overipee 12/5/2012 | 2:57:44 AM
re: Dutch, Swedes Rule Muni BB The US is basically ignorant and in denial about the quality of broadband access and the content that flows over it.

ok fiber_r_us, so enlighten us on what content you're getting that needs more than 500Kbps. I keep hearing the scandinavians talking about how great it is, so what is it you need it for and are getting out of it?
Americans need really large bandwidth for basically one thing: video. We have non-IP ways of doing that. (local cable, echostar, directv, voom)

Other than that you're talking about bitorrent and edonkey type sharing needing bandwidth, and im not sure the govt should be spending money to help you do that faster.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people think the US has the "best" media infrastructure.

We do have an impressive media infrastructure. It's called TV and radio. We get more channels/content to more places, than any country I've been to, and I've been around. of course most of the content itself is crap.
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