Broadband Communities

AUG-SEP 2014

BROADBAND COMMUNITIES is the leading source of information on digital and broadband technologies for buildings and communities. Our editorial aims to accelerate the deployment of Fiber-To-The-Home and Fiber-To-The-Premises.

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12 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | | AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 COMMUNITY BROADBAND ask why, in light of all this interest, the number of community fber networks isn't growing faster than it is. Tere are several answers to this question. One is that some communities now conducting feasibility studies will eventually build their own networks – the process is slow. Another answer is that 19 states either prohibit communities from building community networks altogether or impose restrictions that discourage or efectively prevent them from building such networks. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, has expressed interest in overturning those bans, but whether the commission will do so and whether Congress and the courts will permit such actions remains to be seen. A third reason is that some previously underserved small and midsize communities are fnally getting better broadband from the private sector. It isn't always as fast or afordable as they might have wanted, but it may be good enough to blunt demands for community-owned networks. In some cases, this occurred as incumbent providers worked their way down their list of investment priorities. In other cases, it occurred when communities proactively sought out competitive overbuilders. For example, the town of Gothenburg, Neb., attracted Pinpoint Networks to build a broadband network there (see p. 45), and the town of Wake Forest, N.C., featured in the March- April 2014 issue of this magazine, attracted RST Fiber to build a network in its community. Both Pinpoint Networks and RST Fiber are deploying gigabit fber networks. Finally, the smallest, poorest rural communities often can't fnance broadband networks without subsidies of some kind. Broadband stimulus funding allowed several community fber networks (for example, Lake Connections – see p. 40) to be built in extremely rural areas. However, other such communities have struggled for years to fnance the networks they would like to build. Te July 2014 passage of the Massachusetts IT Bond Bill may permit some western Massachusetts communities to begin building last-mile networks, and funding from the FCC's rural broadband experiment may enable some other communities to do so. However, neither program is adequate to meet the needs of all the communities that still need better broadband. DIFFERENT APPROACHES Tere is no single model for public broadband. Each project takes a slightly diferent approach, depending on the legal and political landscape, the availability of fnancing, the interest of potential partners and the skills and assets public agencies possess. Communities have many options and should explore as many of them as possible before committing to a plan or deciding that public broadband is not for them. (See "Te Art of the Possible" on p. 24.) Political opposition to municipal broadband often constrains cities' options. State legislatures aren't the only entities to impose constraints; opposition may come from community members who disapprove of municipal broadband on principle. Because the pendulum of public opinion shifts constantly, a broadband project that proves legally or politically impossible one year may become feasible a few years later, even in a conservative community. In several cases, city leaders and broadband activists Community broadband networks operate in 37 states and American Samoa (Alaska and American Samoa not shown.)

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