Broadband still a local concern

GCN Insider

If the federal government hadn't stepped in to build the interstate highway system in the 1950s, it's unlikely that the country's subsequent economic boom would have been as robust as it was.

It is equally important, some say, that government get involved in building broadband infrastructure.

It seems the federal government isn't going to step in, so municipal governments would be well advised to pick up the slack. At least that's the recommendation of Christopher Mitchell, a research associate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit research group.

'People need broadband so badly,' Mitchell told GCN. 'To just sit around and say, 'Well, we should rely on someone else to bring it in and keep us competitive with other cities in the region,' that's not really a good policy for a city that is trying to encourage economic development.'

Many cities have in recent years initiated programs to provide public Wi-Fi, and although a number of them have given up those programs, Mitchell said, cities shouldn't throw out the baby with the bath water. Offering free Wi-Fi is not the only model cities should consider, nor is it the most likely to be self-sustaining, he said. 'There have been some cases in which people have gotten into trouble by offering free services [without] having enough revenues from somewhere to cover it.'

A recent ILSR report written by Mitchell warns against relying on private service providers.

Some communities still are not served by those providers, and others cannot count on continuing services.

'Too many cities are currently reliant on private providers for essential infrastructure ' a point brought home to Michigan when Comcast chose to stop supplying some police and fire stations with free broadband and television services,' the report stated.

The report examines all available technologies for delivering Internet connectivity and recommends a combination of fiber optic and wireless for most cities.

'One of the big costs of Wi-Fi is trying to get all the data from each point back to the central area to route it to where it needs to go,' Mitchell said. 'That's why we argue that wired and wireless go together so well. If you commit to having a large fiber network, you can put up Wi-Fi nodes almost anywhere you want. And you have the backbone entirely built. In that case, it's pretty inexpensive if you want to offer Wi-Fi pretty much anywhere.'

Mitchell said there are significant political hurdles to building municipal broadband systems, but, he said, 'I would argue that people are willing to pay their fair share of networks more than they are their fair share of the roads. Local governments shouldn't view this as a cash cow, certainly, but it does have revenue potential.'

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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