Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: a municipal network perspective

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.

5 thoughts on “Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: a municipal network perspective

  1. You might want to look at this month’s Island magazine ( They have a really cool article about how Pitcairn Island, of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame, set up Island-wide community internet service about 5 years ago, and they have the highest percntage of population coverage of any country in the world, with only 1 house on the Island opting out of the service.

    I mention this article as an example of what a community can do with universal high speed internet coverage, because it’s letting the young people who want to stay on the island and live, stay on the island and actually make a living. Every business on the island has a website, and all of the residents buy and sell products online.

    I sell telecom online, and have since the mid 90’s, and I live in a small town in rural Washington state. The only reason I can do this, is because we have high speed internet service towers on all the mountains around the valley I live in, so that all the farmers can run their agri-businesses. Rural high speed networks are becoming the norm, and the whole coutry should be covered within the next few years.

  2. Ha, good job looking up the URL, I guess I should have done that. I get the magazine because I’m looking for a warm sandy beach with broadband in a cheap location… Pitcairn doesn’t fall under the cheap part, and it doesn’t allow outsiders to move there anyway, but that’s OK, I can’t imagine waiting 3 to 4 months for my books to show up from Amazon. LOL

  3. I spend half of my time in Minnesota and half in Ireland. There are some islands in Ireland with broadband – but they aren’t very sunny, or cheap.

    I think it’s great that so many of us can choose to work anywhere – and it’s why I think broadband is so important to a community’s economic development.

  4. Pingback: Minnetonka area works on FTTH « Blandin on Broadband

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