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)
|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|
|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 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|
|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|
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
|NACo acts as a lobby group in Washington for 3066 U.S. counties.||2,000
|2006 Annual Conference & Exposition; McCormick Place/Lakeside Center; Cook County, IL|
|Rural Broadband Institute
|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)|
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)
|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
|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:
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading