Thursday, March 24, 2011

Public Cable and FTTH Networks Mapped by Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Group Maps 100+ Local Public Nets, Wants FCC to Block Anti-Muni Net Laws 03/24/2011 San Francisco - Publicly owned networks are to much of the American telecom sector what public power entities were to the electric utility sector during the New Deal era. They are hated, except where they are not.

Click on map for link to ILSR mapping product
As debate raged over public power in places well served by shareholder owned utilities, federally subsidized rural power cooperatives brought the modern world to Americans fully unserved. A new subsector of the electric utility industry grew up in those areas and in that time. It is with us today.

Today public power is as much a part of the communities it serves as the local fire department. Some of those muni utilities also own networks. In most such instances the cable and telecom operations are well managed, financially sound, and popular in their jurisdictions. The debate isn't about what happens today in those systems. It is about the idea that those scattered examples could be, or should be, models to be replicated on a national scale.

One of the outposts that today advocates for doing just that is Minnesota's Institute of Local-Self Reliance (ILSR). The telecom section head of ILSR, Christopher Mitchell, just issued a new national inventory report and map of publicly owned networks.

"Even as AT&T tries to swallow up T-Mobile, further consolidating the telecom- munications sector, a new phenomenon is maturing that promises to give communities a vehicle for influencing their own telecommunications future: publicly owned networks," states Mr. Mitchell's press release of yesterday announcing the new map.

The map released by ILSR plots the location of one hundred plus communities "that have rejected the tyranny of existing carriers and built their own networks," in the words of the ILSR statement.  The inventory is based on presently operating systems of standard cable and fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) architectures.

“The Community Broadband Map reveals the depth and breadth of publicly owned networks,” says Mr. Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “Many of these were the first to bring broadband to their residents. Others offer some of the best deals available in the country.”

The Community Broadband Map lays the foundation for a new report released by ILSR, Publicly Owned Broadband Networks: Averting the Looming Broadband Monopoly. The report argues that "community networks offer the only potential form of future broadband competition for most Americans."

One piece of the Report is now being prayed for fervently by every member of the Federal Communications Bar Association with a child in college or wanting a second home. The report calls on the Federal Communications Commission "to protect the right of communities to build broadband networks by preventing heavily lobbied state legislatures from stripping their authority to do so."

The new publication by ILSR’s is a follow-up to the Institute's 2010 report entitled Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need.

Our Take
We don't see publicly owned networks as being a panacea for the confounding issues that face us as we seek broadband for all Americans. 

Neither do we see public networks as being a threat to The American Way of Life.  There are some bad managers at some community networks, just like there are some bad actors at some private sector networks.

The vast majority of our national information infrastructure will remain investor owned. That doesn't mean that we don't have a lot to learn from community networks, good and bad.
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