Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why U.S. state, local governments are exploring alternative business models for fiber to the premise telecom infrastructure

Larry Irving, who served as assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), writes in The Hill that he is having a difficult time understanding why state and local governments are interested in building their own telecommunications networks.

The answer is self evident. Mr. Irving need only look at the situation in Montrose, Colorado, described in this Daily Yonder article -- which is emblematic of much of the United States. Investor-owned providers can't provide all premises reliable wireline Internet service and do so at a cost that affords good value for the consumer:

Montrose, a city of 19,000 about 65 miles from the Utah border, is a typically conservative rural area, overwhelmingly Republican but with a populist bent. Like all of the Western Slope of the state, it is not participating in the robust economic recovery seen in the Front Slope cities of Denver, Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs.

Internet service here is currently a hodgepodge. Some of us depend on broadcast towers, some on DSL from CenturyLink and some on cable service from Charter. Service is generally at less than 10MB. It’s expensive, and customer service is erratic.

It became clear to the city leadership that none of the large corporate providers were ever going to invest in high-speed broadband for the area. And while some enterprising local startups have moved to provide high-speed fiber and tower broadcast, they are capital-limited and have to charge high fees to get even a modest return on investment.

That's why the citizens of Montrose gave their municipal leaders the green light to explore alternative business models that can bring fiber to the premises of Montrose residents. City leaders recognize that technologically, fiber is the future. But that future and its many benefits will be deferred -- perhaps permanently -- unless new business models are found to make it a reality.

Hats off to Montrose, Colorado. It is taking on one of the nation's toughest and most important problems. Former U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski called it the "critical infrastructure challenge of our generation."

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