As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog…
Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman
For rural community broadband champions, pursuing better broadband has never been more complicated. Factors that currently have me thinking, if not stumped include:
- Will the winning RDOF bidder be approved by the FCC?
- If yes, what will their buildout schedule look like till 2027?
- Will they build-out the adjacent non-RDOF areas?
- Will Starlink maintain the 100 Mb+ speeds once they move from beta to large customer numbers?
- Will they be able to deliver, as promised, to 300 Mb and beyond?
- How will low-income households afford $500 or more in upfront costs?
- Will other DSL providers follow ATT’s lead and phase out DSL services?
- Will the majority of rural DSL customers ever see widespread speeds that support multiple users?
We should know more about some of these questions soon; other will emerge more slowly.
The 1996 Telecom Act was supposed to spur competition, but we are going backwards. In many communities, from affluent suburbs to small rural communities, residents are effectively subject to the services, pricing and responsiveness of an unregulated monopoly provider. Community leaders need to decide whether this is that a good thing.
The costs to build a fiber infrastructure in a community are low for a 30-year asset. Community broadband advocates should analyze the multiple options for creating community-owned networks and promote them to elected officials. Locally-owned networks serve the community as their first priority.
We are going to talk public ownership models at our Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10 at noon. Sign up here: https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/broadband/blandin-community-broadband-program-webinar-series/ . We will discuss at least a couple models. Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance will join the conversation.
Ammon ID (https://www.ammonfiber.com) is building and maintaining its own fiber network where residents now have their choice of Gigabit providers for $49.50 per month. Chattanooga TN (https://epb.com/home-store/internet) offers a Gb for $68 per month and solved its pandemic-magnified digital divide issue by simply providing free 100 Mb Internet to 28,000 students. A new study documented a $2.69 billion long-term benefit from Chattanooga’s fiber network.
We will also talk about the mixed experience of Minnesota’s publicly owned broadband networks (wonders and warts!), including Southwest MN Broadband, the Cities of Windom and Monticello and Scott and Lake Counties. And, maybe a bit on how new and expanded cooperatives might accomplish the same goals. Join us!