Municipalities deliver broadband via partnerships

Municipalities deliver broadband via partnerships

Municipal governments are developing creative partnerships to bring  broadband and faster Internet access to citizens and businesses in their communities, including building their own infrastructure and partnering with Google to install Google Fiber.

“Hundreds [of cities and towns] have done something already, and hundreds more are evaluating it now and are likely to take action,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, according to a report on Ars Technica.

One of the latest efforts: Next Century Cities, a coalition of 32 cities trying to upgrade to gigabit service. The project officially launched Oct. 20, and now 50 cities from Idaho, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, Washington, California, Oregon, North Carolina, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota are involved.

A similar joint venture is Gig. U, or the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project. A coalition of over 30 leading research universities from across the United States, Gig.U seeks to accelerate the deployment of ultra high-speed networks to U.S. universities and their surrounding communities.

“As we have seen in city after city, truly high-speed broadband can impact all facets of a citizen’s quality of life,” noted an announcement of the project by Next Century Cities.

“The caliber of Internet networks required for cities to compete, grow and thrive in the 21st century will largely not be achieved through the copper wire networks of the 20th century. Cities and their leaders recognize that the present and the future will be based on fiber-optic, gigabit networks that can deliver speeds at hundreds of times the current national average.”

Other cities have partnered with local power companies to provide high-speed service.

Chattanooga was the first city in the western hemisphere to offer 1 gigabit/sec fiber Internet service to all residents and businesses. The fiber network was installed by Chattanooga's publicly owned electric power system, EPB, to support the most advanced smart grid system in the nation.  

In October, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and EPB announced a partnership that will use Chattanooga’s smart grid as a living laboratory for testing new energy technologies.

When Piqua, Ohio, replaced its SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) network, the city decided to include enough bandwidth to serve the rest of the city’s IT needs. The surplus bandwidth let the city partner with a local carrier to sell excess capacity to local businesses, turning the network into an economic development tool and generating revenue.

Meanwhile, federal agencies are also backing expanded broadband access across the country. At the same time as the Next Century Cities announcement, the Department of Agriculture announced $190.5 million in grants and loans for rural broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

"Modern telecommunications and broadband access is now as essential to the businesses and residents of rural America as electricity was in the 1930s," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a USDA statement. The funding will go towards providing, “broadband in areas that lack it, help rural-serving public television stations begin using digital broadcasts and support other telecommunications infrastructure improvements."

USDA is providing assistance through the Community Connect Grant program, the Public Television Digital Transition Grant program and the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan program. The USDA is providing the funds for 25 projects in 19 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Federal Communications Commission is also fighting efforts by big telecommunications companies such as AT&T to stall community broadband initiatives. Campaigns by these companies have resulted in many states passing laws that limit cities’ ability to build or expand their internet services.

“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so,” said FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler in a June blog, referencing Chattanooga’s community broadband initiative, which has been hampered by a Tennessee law restricting Chattanooga from expanding its network.

The FCC has been at the forefront of knocking down regulation that hampers broadband growth for years. In 2011 the FCC objected to a bill that would restrict development of community networks in North Carolina.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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