Municipal Broadband: How it works, how it is financed

I recently wrote an op-ed about broadband in Vermont (not). Several folks wrote back asking why I hadn’t mentioned two major municipal fiber-to-the-home projects, one up and running, Burlington Telecom, and one in the planning and funding stages, ECFiber.

The short answer was that I didn’t feel I had enough space to talk about these, the longer answer is that the projects are controversial and have become politicized with one side saying the fiber projects receive an unfair taxpayer subsidy. (They don’t.) and the other side saying that the incumbent commercial offerings from Comcast and Verizon/Fairpoint, are receiving overt subsidies as a sort of bribe to encourage them to build out their networks in rural areas. (they might be). Both the fiber systems, and the incumbent systems have been savaged in the press. I didn’t really want to go there; I was more interested in the notion of broadband as the equivalent of the interstate highway system.

Anyway, I wanted to point to what appears to be an excellent series of white papers discussing the technical, political, and financial aspects of municipal broadband by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

I do have a dog in this fight… as a research business start-up, I’m currently buying 14 internet connections using DSL, cable and one lone connection to BT. These are used to deliver our multi-point video exercise program to patients in their homes via their own TV sets and their internet connection. I’ve dealt with pretty much every horror story you can think of in ordering these connections. Think “airline travel”, and you’ve pretty much got the paradigm. The newspaper piece was really an attempt to (re)start the conversation among the people in our state about a vital piece of our economic future and to educate myself about the alternatives and realities.

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