Saturday, February 06, 2016

Modernizing telecom infrastructure too big of a job to be left to cities

101 US Cities Have Pledged to Secure High Speed Internet | Motherboard: The US has a big and rather complicated internet speed problem. Its broadband infrastructure is woefully behind in speed and price compared to a broad swath of other countries, and much of this has to do with its tenacious commitment to maintaining the status quo: that is, giving big telecommunications companies a lot of our money without being able to demand a fair amount in return. But here’s a change: 101 cities are have agreed to band together to bring their residents gigabit-speed internet connections, even if they have to build it themselves.

Municipal governments are justifiably concerned that not having modern fiber to the premise telecommunications infrastructure adversely affects their economies, making them less than desirable destinations for residents and businesses considering locating there. The problem is constructing and maintaining it isn't in the budgets of local governments still reeling in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. Other infrastructure such as streets, public buildings and water and sewer systems are at the end of their useful lives, competing for any dollars that could be directed toward building telecommunications infrastructure. Local governments nationwide are also strapped with enormous public pension obligations.

Aside from these financial challenges, legacy incumbent telephone and cable companies regard their service areas as sovereign territories, deploying armies of lawyers and lobbyists to defend them from local governments hoping to build fiber to the premise infrastructure to remedy service deficits and access disparities. Thus far, no munis appear inclined to assert their jurisdictional authority by exercising inverse condemnation powers and/or creating Internet telecommunications franchises. Even if they did, it would likely result in costly litigation that would delay construction for years if not decades at a time when telecom infrastructure modernization is already a generation late.

These circumstances do not bode well for municipal telecom infrastructure efforts. Given the billions needed to upgrade the nation's legacy telecom infrastructure in order to bring fiber connections to every American home, school and business, a national telecommunications infrastructure modernization initiative is clearly needed. Telecom infrastructure doesn't serve only cities. It connects cities to their states, states to other states and the nation to the world. It supports interstate commerce and is fundamentally interstate in nature, not just urban or rural as it is often mischaracterized. Building interstate infrastructure is a national undertaking that can't be left to local governments to accomplish.

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