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36 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MARCH/APRIL 2017 RURAL BROADBAND A Local Ownership Approach to Broadband How to pay for the last mile, sustainably and at low risk By Michael Curri / Strategic Networks Group N o one would say people don't deserve access to clean water, reliable electric power, safe roads, a right to equal participation in the economy or access to essential civic institutions. ese are not luxuries in society but essential services. Broadband has become an essential service because, without broadband, communities cannot succeed. ey need broadband to be economically vibrant, retain and expand their local GDP and tax base, and attract new, high- paying local jobs. However, the funding needed to build last-mile broadband is lacking, particularly in rural areas. Federal and state funds have become increasingly limited. With private-sector funds looking for private-sector returns on investment, many areas remain unserved or underserved with broadband. e current business-case approach to providing broadband does not address the needs of these unserved and underserved areas. Simply put, many areas lack high-quality broadband because the business case does not work for private-sector providers. Clearly, a different approach is needed to connect businesses, organizations and households. QUANTIFYING BROADBAND GAPS Reaching the conclusion that a new approach is needed to fund last-mile broadband came at the end of a long journey for me. It crystallized when I was asked to present to the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council in January 2017. In doing background research and talking to industry and community leaders about broadband in Oregon, I heard that the issue there, similar to that in many other places, was how to get broadband to unserved and underserved areas, particularly rural areas. Gaps in broadband are nothing new for those of us who work on broadband issues. However, what struck me is that the data clearly shows gaps where the business case for broadband ends. e data also shows there is an economic case for investing in better broadband and a way to bridge those gaps that is sustainable and low risk. To draw on evidence that would help the Oregon council, I looked into the data SNG collected in Tennessee in 2016 from more than 22,000 businesses, organizations and households. As my team analyzed this data, we saw some distinct patterns. is data clearly shows that rural subscribers get only half the bandwidth urban subscribers get for the same price. (See Figure 1.) Rural subscribers get only half the bandwidth urban subscribers get for the same price, and bandwidth is lower with no competition.