Thanks to Chris Mitchell, from Institute for Local Self Reliance, for the heads up on his recent report: Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities are Building the Networks They Need. I think few people are as well versed or passionate about publicly owned, run or supported networks as Chris. The report is thorough and provides a great history and perspective of municipal networks – and while I say municipal, I should explicitly expand that to county, regions and other geographic scopes.
Chris draws on example from all over the country – including Minnesota. Scott County is noted for their fiber-optic network built to connect all the county facilities, including libraries, 800MHz towers, public safety buildings, schools, and some additional assets (pg 16). The Monticello saga is described (pg 26). A couple of Minnesota businesses/employers get a nod for their support – even promotion – of remote working programs for employees (pg 5). Windom also gets a nod for the superior customer service of their community-owned provider – even when the customer belonged to the commercial provider in town (in other words, their competitors) (pg 6). But it’s not all good – Anoka County is called out with surveys from residents who said they would not have bought or built houses where they did if they knew access to the Internet was so limited (pg 6) and Minnesota’s super majority referendum rules (communities must pass a referendum with 65% support in order to build a triple-play broadband network) is also mentioned.
One thing I really like is the recognition that each town is different and so each solution is different that is one of the big advantages of getting the town involved in the solution – it means custom-made solutions. There’s also a section on open access networks that I found especially interesting partially because I find the idea of broadband as a natural monopoly compelling…
In economic terms, FTTH networks are almost a perfect natural monopoly due to the large up front expense but decreasing costs to add subscribers. An established network can underprice any new competitors. However, there is no technical reason multiple competitors cannot offer services on the same fiber infrastructure (pg 8). I think that notion may grow as people start thinking of broadband more as a utility.