Municipal Broadband is the Digital Key to Growth
The slow pace of broadband deployment in the United States has long been a source of consternation for underserved rural communities from coast to coast. They have good reason to be upset since multiple studies have shown that broadband access leads to economic growth in the new economy. Globally, governments have recognized the need to accelerate the pace of broadband deployment in order to provide the conditions necessary for economic success, and many have taken direct action to facilitate it.
In the U.S., though, there are significant regulatory and legal hurdles preventing significant government intervention in many markets. A system of quasi-monopolies that exists among internet service providers has also proved to be a powerful deterrent to progress. There have been some success stories in a few states, but even existing municipal systems are increasingly being challenged by the incumbent providers. These large providers seem willing to do anything to prevent government competition, and there's a simple reason behind it. Municipal broadband works.
Chattanooga, Tennessee: From Bust to Boom
Chattanooga, Tennesse is a prime example of the economic development that broadband internet access creates. Originally a center of industrial activity because of its position as a crossroads of regional railroads, the city of Chattanooga experienced a precipitous decline as manufacturing companies fled the region and the population dwindled. By the 1990s, there had been a 20% population loss from the historical high point.
In the intervening years, Chattanooga planned and executed a redevelopment plan that would turn around the city's fortunes. One of the most successful and vital parts of the plan was the financing and deployment of a fiber-optic municipal broadband system. Originally conceived by the local electric utility as the backbone for a smart grid system, the fiber network was expanded to provide gigabit-speed internet services to homes and businesses all over the city. The resulting economic boom has created $865 million in new economic activity for the city.
An International Solution
It's easy to find examples of municipal broadband systems outside of the United States. That's because most other nations have declared expanding broadband access to be a high priority and have taken direct control over making it happen. For example, Stockholm, Sweeden took the initiative in creating an extensive municipal fiber-optic network called Stokab. The system leases lines to broadband providers, which guarantees quality high-speed access to all citizens. In the city, 90% of homes, as well as almost 100% of businesses, have broadband access today.
A similar effort is underway in Australia, where the National Broadband Network aims to provide a fiber-optic network nationwide. The government-owned system functions as a backbone network which is then distributed to homes by resellers. There's fierce competition in the market among providers of NBN plans, who compete on price and customer service in an otherwise level playing field. The rollout is expected to be completed by 2020 and will provide for significant economic growth, according to experts.
A Global Game Changer
There's little remaining debate about the importance of broadband access to the 21st-century economy. The importance of such access is so universally recognized that the United Nations has already declared it to be a basic human right. There's also ample evidence that proves that municipal broadband systems are an effective way of providing universal high-speed access to consumers around the world. The only remaining question is if we will all have the collective political will to make sure that all citizens will be able to have equal opportunity on the digital frontier.