Business Insider has a fascinating account of a Tennessee town that flouted traditional telecoms and built a gigabit fiber network on their own. The city of 170,000 is another in a long string of municipalities fighting back against telecoms that put smaller communities on the back burner – with the help of a publicly-owned electric utility company, EPB. After AT&T and Comcast delayed plans to bring high-speed internet to the area, Chattanooga was forced to search other avenues, but it wasn’t easy.
Approximately 20 states currently enforce laws that disallow this very arrangement – you’ll never guess who supported the passage of these laws (coughCOMCASTcough). Effectively, municipalities in those 20 states are unable to sell services that rely on publicly-owned infrastructure – telecoms feel it’s unfair that a tax-paying business might need to compete with a tax-funded business. Thankfully, the FCC has said they plan on helping municipalities bypass these laws for faster internet – this is how it should be. Small municipalities shouldn’t be subject to telecoms whims when it comes to what’s quickly becoming a necessity in high-speed internet.
Chattanooga paid $330 million for their fiber network, which is so small cost. Chris Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self Reliance (say that five times fast), believes he understands the best strategy for municipalities looking to duplicate Chattanooga’s success:
…most governments don’t really want to have to build and run their own networks, despite their quality and popularity. Ideally, he says, local governments across the nation could fund the construction of a fiber network and then partner with a third party to run the service. This is happening in several cities nationwide, and it works well, though the number is climbing slowly.
Anyway, the piece is much longer and dives deeper into the politics of public-owned utilities, so I highly recommend checking it out.
There’s also a fantastic video documenting the success Chattanooga has had here.