Monday, September 12, 2016

Why state and local government are ill equipped to modernize U.S. telecom infrastructure

West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council Chairman Seeks Gigabit Internet Statewide: (TNS) -- The new chairman of a governor-appointed panel wants to set a lofty goal for broadband speeds in West Virginia: Make gigabit internet service available statewide.

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“I applaud your thought, but I think, at this point, it’s a very unrealistic goal,” said council member Robert Cole, adding that the 1-gigabit service would require extensive excavation work to install large high-speed fiber lines. “If we scare [internet providers] off, they’re going to put up a wall. Getting their cooperation is key.

This exchange encapsulates the challenge confronting state and local governments eager to modernize their telecommunications infrastructures to universally available fiber to the premise (FTTP) as an economic development strategy. There is currently no viable business model to finance it in either the private or public sectors.

The amount of investment capital needed is too high and the ROI too long for private investment capital. That's why investor-owned telecom providers have only sparingly deployed FTTP -- in discrete, compact neighborhoods they believe will generate sufficient revenue to offset construction and maintenance costs.

On the public side, state and local governments struggle with their existing obligations including maintaining roads and highways and water and sewer systems as well as accumulated public pension obligations. That reality leaves states like West Virginia here to engage in a pointless debate over "broadband speeds" which isn't really relevant when it comes to FTTP given the technology's enormous capacity compared to legacy metallic telephone and cable networks.

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