Optical/IP Networks

Municipal Broadband Networks

Growing numbers of municipalities are beginning to think about broadband service in a very new way – classing it with basic services like water and power as a vital part of life and work in 21st century cities. Thus cities around the world are exploring the possibility of funding and building broadband infrastructure in the same way they do airports, roads, and sewers.

To the extent that information is and will be the dominant currency of the 21st century, as many believe, public ownership of the infrastructure that carries it seems consistent with the traditional role of cities. (See Broadband Subs Approaching 200M.)

One city official says she fears that if the “broadband highway” passes her city by, just as the interstate highway system passed many by in the 1950s, her city might become a backwater.

Proponents of municipal broadband argue that the business of broadband infrastructure might be best suited to government entities. The initial build and upkeep costs are considerable, and decades may pass before revenues from leasing out the network recoup the cost. (See Dutch, Swedes Rule Muni BB.)

So the idea of owning broadband networks often is couched by city officials as a means to “economic development,” a way to attract more taxpaying residents and businesses to the area. Cities must win the support of taxpayers, not shareholders, so profit isn't the central motivation.

The bulk of these projects are formed at the grass roots level. Once they get enough momentum, an organization is formed to push the project forward. The most significant municipal organizations are listed in the chart below.

Table 1: Municipal Broadband Network Organizations
Name/Location Summary (From Organization's Website) Membership Next Event
Wireless Internet Institute (w2i)
Boston, MA
The Wireless Internet Institute is an international think tank that explores wireless Internet technologies, best practices and sustainable implementation models. 10 private companies
InfoDev at the World Bank, UNITAR, UNDP, and private sector participants including industry and regulators associations, Intel and IBM.
W2i Digital Cities Convention (West), October 10-12, 2005 in San Francisco
Alpharetta, GA 30004
Civitium is a for-profit consulting firm for municipal governments who are applying wireless technology as the foundation for municipal broadband networks. Cities of Portland, Houston, Philadelphia, Dublin, Miami Beach None
Muni Consortium
Minneapolis, MN
The Muni Consortium is a for-profit consulting firm that helps municipalities and utilities deploy broadband networks using optical networking (PON) technology. 20 optical gear and services suppliers None
Broadband Properties
Rosenberg, TX
Broadband Properties is a publication providing information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Publication None
Broadband Home Central Broadband Home Central is an information clearinghouse on residential broadband and the competitive deployment of new products. Publication serving professionals in residential broadband None
FTTH Council
Spokane, WA
The Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Council is a non-profit organization established to educate the public on FTTH solutions for utilities and municipalities. 200 vendors
Technology companies, small service providers, etc.
4th Annual Conference & Expo - October 3-6, 2005, Mandalay Bay Casino & Resort, Las Vegas
Municipal World
Thomas, Ontario N5P 3V3
The publication covers new technologies and implementation strategies for municipalities. Readership of 40,000
National League of Cities
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Suite 550 � Washington, DC 20004
The National League of Cities is the oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments throughout the United States. 1600 cities
U.S. cities and towns
82nd Annual Congress of Cities and Exposition, December 6-10, 2005
Public Technology Institute
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Suite 800 Washington, D.C. 20004
Public Technology Institute (PTI) is a national, non-profit organization advocating new technologies for U.S. cities and counties. 40
cities and corporate technology companies
International City/County Management Association
777 North Capitol Street, NE - Suite 500; Washington, DC 20002
ICMA is an organization for chief appointed managers, administrators and assistants in cities, towns, counties and regional entities worldwide. 8,000
city, county, regional managers and administrators - global
National Association of Counties
Washington D.C.
NACo acts as a lobby group in Washington for 3066 U.S. counties. 2,000
U.S. Counties
2006 Annual Conference & Exposition; McCormick Place/Lakeside Center; Cook County, IL
Rural Broadband Institute
Washington D.C.
The Rural Broadband Coalition helps rural cities react to economic development challenges including high-speed access to the Internet. 50
ISPs and technology companies
TrendsMedia (WiMax World)
4 West Main Street; Suite 201; Northboro, MA 01532
Wimaxworld provides independent research on major and emerging Wimax technology markets. Research Group WiMaxWorld - Boston, October 26-28, 2005 (Contains a track on Muni WiMax)
WiMax Forum
2495 Leghorn Street Mountain View, CA 94043
The WiMAX Forum works to facilitate the deployment of broadband wireless networks by helping to ensure the compatibility and interoperability of broadband wireless access equipment. 250 Wireless tech firms and wireless service providers Sponsor for other groups' events
Media Access Project
1625 K Street, NW Suite 1118, Washington, DC 20006
The Media Access Project is a non-profit, public interest law firm concerned with providing broadband to all population groups. Law Firm
National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA)
Alexandria, VA
NATOA represents the telecommunications needs and interests of local governments and those who advise local governments on telecommunications issues. 14 U.S. chapters None
Center for Municipal Solutions Technologies
Selkirk, NY
CMS serves local governments (cities and counties)on core technology issues including broadband 500 municipalities in 17 states, and the National Park Service None
Broadband Over Power Lines Industry Association (BPLIA)
1301 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Suite 800 Washington, DC 20004
The association educates policymakers and the public about the benefits of power line communications, and advocates on behalf of the BPL industry. Utilities, suppliers, ISPs, and governments that collectively serve over 9 million U.S. households and over 27 million households worldwide Power Line Strategic Summit Presentations
TeleStructure (Digital Village)
P.O.Box 2350, Sausalito, CA 94966 415-331-1963
CTI is a collaboration of public and private interests working to encourage communities to design and develop strategies promoting local broadband deployment. Consulting Firm Virginia Muni BB Roundtable, October 28-29, 2005
The Baller Herbst Law Group, P.C.
2014 P Street, N.W. Suite 200 Washington, D.C. 20036
Managed by attorney Jim Baller, the site is an information clearinghouse for (mostly U.S.) municipal broadband information. The site includes current information on the legal and regulatory climate in the U.S. The firm represents the American Public Power Association, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, regional and state municipal electric associations, state municipal leagues, local governments, and public power systems None
1615 L Street NW, Suite 520 Washington, DC 20036
TeleCommUnity advocates for local governments� interests on matters of federal telecommunications and broadband legislation. 200 cities in Texas, Michigan, Oregon, Maryland and Virginia
U.S. cities and towns
The World Foundation for Smart Communities
2717 Caminito Prado La Jolla, CA 92037 (858) 551-0051
Smart Communities is a nonprofit educational organization founded to promote the use of information technology by communities. Corporations, government, academia, associations and community leaders None

But, while most would agree that the proliferation of broadband is a good thing, municipalities and incumbent telecomunications operators in many markets have radically different ideas on how, and by whom, this should be carried out. (See Utah's Broadband War.)

The incumbents (very rationally) want to maintain their traditional ownership of broadband infrastructure so that they can upgrade the networks at their own speed, while holding broadband service margins to predictable levels. They see government ownership of broadband infrastructure as a direct competitive threat.

The greatest interest in advancing broadband projects is usually found in rural and suburban cities whose residents don’t have affordable access to broadband service. In larger places, municipalities wish to force broadband prices down by creating competition against a telco and cable MSO duopoly.

Municipal broadband projects fall into two general categories – wholesale and retail. In retail models, the municipality not only owns and operates the broadband facilities used to deliver broadband services, but also acquires and distributes the services such as Internet access, video, and telephony. The retail model is more prevalent in markets where no private broadband service providers wish to participate.

In the wholesale model, the municipality funds and builds the broadband facility, but leases it to private sector service providers that distribute their own broadband services. This enables service providers to enter new markets without massive infrastructure investment, and reduces the need to lease lines from local incumbent providers.

The wholesale model has proven to be a more competitive and politically durable model in markets where the municipal provider competes with incumbent broadband service providers.

Questions addressed in this report:
  • What technologies are used?

  • How big is the market?

  • What is the regulatory/political environment?

  • What's happened so far? (recent Light Reading stories)

    — Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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  • COMMENTS Add Comment
    sgamble 12/5/2012 | 2:58:51 AM
    re: Municipal Broadband Networks I manage a 10Gig Metro network for a Muni in Ottawa, Canada. It started up about 3 years ago.

    We saw an oppurtunity to build a cheap greenfield network without all the headaches of traditional TDM services. Once we acquired the dark fibre assets from the original sub station monitoring we built a very cheap 10Gigabit Ethernet Metro network.

    What got us rolling was landing the major school boards (three of the four boards in the area). The first was for over a 150 schools connected via Gigabit Ethernet. This allowed us to build fibre to every school in our city hitting every residential area. Which, in the future, will help us deploy meter monitoring which is mandated for 2007 I believe, WiFi in residential and other services since we have fibre to the curb.

    After landing over 80% of the MUSH sector we are now going for SMB and larger Enterprise customers. To put some fear into the larger carriers we decided we wanted a piece of the Federal Governement (which is huge in this city being the capital). So we went through the interesting process of the demo requirements with the Gov's technology folks and passed which gives us the right to answer Fed RFPs.

    The carriers see our fibre to the curb, loss of MUSH and retail clients and now the Government qualification and are scratching their heads trying to figure out if we are a threat or not. Most of the larger carriers do not have the CAPEX budget to roll out Ethernet services in the major cities up here. So we will always be able to under bid them because our costs are so much lower (and the service is better).

    The concern I would have for Muni's getting into this game so late is that the major carriers are all moving to an Ethernet/IP network. We had a huge advantage 3 years ago when we built the only 10Gig Ethernet Metro network of its kind. Even now we are watching the carriers scramble to catch up and are now looking to see what technology advantage we can push to stay ahead. Not only by launching services like VOIP and Data Backup but also looking at emerging technologies like BPL and WiMax. Once the prices for equipment drop and the distances increased we could really play in their backyards in the residential and SMB space.

    So in at end of this long winded message I can say that this Muni is the reason you can get a Gig-E port for under $1000/month in Ottawa. It wasn't offered until we hit the market except in the downtown core and the costs were nuts. The carriers followed and submitted new tarrifs and in them they wrote "due to increased competition, primarily from MEU (muni's), we have had to drop the price for Ethernet access..." Neat. Competition is great.

    rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 2:58:49 AM
    re: Municipal Broadband Networks Steve,

    Thanks for the informational post. I was wondering if there are any articles on the web describing what you guys have done for the schools? Are other school boards outside your area hearing about it and taking an interest? Also, did you guys evaluate hosting a learning management system as a service? If so, can you describe more about that too?
    sgamble 12/5/2012 | 2:58:41 AM
    re: Municipal Broadband Networks This is the advantage we had 3 years ago. The schools were looking for bandwidth which we delivered. With the carriers catching up - providing 'dumb bandwidth' isn't enough if you are starting out. I do admit this is an assumption but I think it's valid.

    We see it now. Services to go along with our huge bandwidth are now required. For the schools up here, they are focused on video conferencing, VOIP, data storage and secure internet (filtering, firewalling etc).

    Because of the bandwidth available to the schools, they seem to be trying to manage their learning management systems themselves. Although it has come up. I believe they will see the complexity of managing this and will have us host in the future. The schools IT/networking people have a lot on their plates so I hope they will hand this off to us. We will see.

    Muni's landing school boards is getting more and more common up here. I know a Toronto Muni landed a huge school board down there. I really only keep an eye on the Ontario Muni market as we formed a partnership for TLS services accross Ontario. Although this will have to change as personally I see the munis having to team up for larger enterprise RFPs. The Provincial Ontario RFP is a good example. None of us can do it on our own. But together we have all the cities nailed between 9 MEUs who are part of our partnership. I read something similiar for munis in Europe teaming up to compete for larger business.

    Not much meat but here are the articles when we landed the schools (found 2 of them):



    If anyone interested in learning more about the Muni market up here feel free to email me: [email protected]*NOSPAM*TelecomOttawa.com
    wolfie 12/5/2012 | 2:58:39 AM
    re: Municipal Broadband Networks Steve, I tried to email you for more information. Please send me an email at: [email protected]
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