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August 14, 2009 1:03 PM

Hey FCC: Stop Ignoring Municipal Broadband!

The FCC's workshop on broadband deployment featured speakers from across the spectrum of broadband providers, except for one notable omission: they didn't have a single representative from a municipal broadband deployer.

To give them some credit they did include a couple of non-traditional providers who started as public non-profits and eventually evolved into private for-profit operations--namely Hiawatha Broadband Corporation and LARIAT. But in terms of having representation from a city that built it's own broadband network, they had nothing.

While I'm not one who necessarily believes that municipal broadband is the ultimate solution to solving our country's broadband woes, to leave them out of the deployment discussion entirely seems irresponsible.

There are communities across the country that have found success building and operating their own broadband networks. Despite the caricature that municipal broadband invariably leads to boondoggles, that's just simply not the reality.

That's part of the reason why I think the FCC needed to include municipal representation on these panels. There's a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt that's built up around municipal broadband that the FCC needs to be addressing on a factual basis. By not including municipal broadband on these panels I couldn't help but wonder if either the FCC was buying into these falsehoods or if they just didn't think municipal broadband was a significant enough player to include.

Another problem with not including municipal broadband in these discussions is that it really seemed to skew the discussions that were had. Everything was focused on how do private providers financially justify buildouts and how can government aid in that process. Very little was said about how some areas may never be economically viable for private providers and therefore municipal broadband may make more sense. Also missing was any exploration of how some communities want more bandwidth more quickly than private providers are willing/able to provide, and what these communities can/should do in this situation. And on a related more general note, what should be doing if government can't incentivize sufficient private investment to enable broadband networks that live up to the needs of the public good?

The FCC has given an initial response to their decision to omit municipal broadband from these panels, but their only excuse is that there will be a workshop on local government issues coming up that will touch on municipal broadband as one of the options available to municipalities. But quite frankly that doesn't seem like enough attention.

For one, it still doesn't rectify the FCC's decision to leave municipal broadband out of discussions surrounding deployment. The only thing I can think of that may justify this decision is that the FCC didn't want their deployment workshops to get lost in the back-and-forth over whether it's fair for public networks to compete with private. But even then, I'd rather they just come out and say that then try to gloss over their reasoning.

The other reason I find this response inadequate is that municipal broadband isn't about local government so much as it is about deploying broadband. As we've got a massive challenge ahead of us to get America wired with 21st century broadband, we can't afford to leave any options off the table. And as we're going through the process of crafting a national broadband strategy, I think we'd be remiss if we didn't at least consider municipal broadband right alongside private providers as one of the tools at our disposal to overcome these challenges.

That said, in no way am I'm trying to say that municipal broadband is the right solution for all of America. Instead what I'm stressing is that it is a solution that has proven viable in many communities and therefore it deserves serious attention.

Because of this, if the FCC's serious about their claims that they're pursuing a fact-based approach towards getting a holistic understanding of what's happening in the broadband marketplace, then they can't afford to marginalize municipal broadband.

Instead of trying to squeeze it into a workshop on local government issues, they should be breaking it out and holding an entire workshop on just the issues surrounding municipal broadband so that we can really drill down into the many opportunities and challenges that it presents and get a better understanding of when it works and when it doesn't. Also, by doing this we can work on identifying opportunities where municipal broadband can be synergistic with private providers rather than only being seen as competitive.

So my message to the FCC today is simple: stop ignoring municipal broadband and start taking it seriously!

Hopefully you already are and both myself and others are reading too much into your decision not to include a single representative from a municipal broadband network on these deployment panels. But we can't be reassured of that until we start seeing the FCC engage with this topic directly. And so far as it relates to these workshops, that hasn't happened.

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Comments (5)

Thanks Geoff - I wholeheartedly agree. It drives me nuts to think that the FCC won't invite publicly owned broadband networks (some of the fastest and most affordable networks in America) to the table ... probably because the private providers would get their dander up and just posture over how unfair it is that they would have to compete with a service that puts the community first.

Posted by Christopher Mitchell on August 14, 2009 3:21 PM

Excellent point.

> There are communities across the country that have found success building and operating their own broadband networks.

They should invite representatives of cities outside the US as well. Stockholm is perhaps the leading municipal networking success story, see:


For more on municipal networking, see:


Posted by Larry Press on August 15, 2009 9:11 AM

Geoff: You make some excellent points. The open question is whether this was an oversight resulting from ignorance or a deliberate attempt to marginalize an emerging and very legitimate option for communities. I don't know enough about the FCC to answer that and leave that to more informed people to respond.

Posted by Gary Fields on August 20, 2009 5:31 PM


On target perspective. Could it be because the incumbents have some influence and have told the FCC to discount the idea of municipal broadband?

The game is to keep as much of the pie for as long a time as they can. Allowing municipal broadband as a viable idea might accelerate marketshare loss, so why even have them in a discussion?

Posted by JAMES CARLINI on August 21, 2009 9:29 AM

Mr. Daily,

I am the GM for Burlington Telecom a municipal FTTH project in Burlington, VT. In all fairness to the FCC they did contact me to attend the workshop but I was unable to attend. I hope there are other opportunities to share the muni story with the FCC.

Posted by Chris Burns on August 24, 2009 8:51 AM

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