Local column: Fiber networks for policy wonks like me

Do you think you have an opinion about city-owned fiber optic infrastructure? Read some of the policy reports on the issue, writes James Patten. Twenty years have passed since enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in which Congress and policymakers envisioned multiple Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) competing to build networks that would result in increasingly better, faster service, and reduced prices. Instead, after billions of federal dollars being distributed to service providers to build out their networks we have a nationwide regime where according to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2016 Broadband Progress Report only 38 percent of Americans have more than one choice of fixed ISP’s. In rural areas that number falls to 13 percent. According to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, “nearly 34 million Americans couldn’t get high-speed broadband even if they wanted it” and “rural American’s are nearly ten times more likely than their urban peers to be bypassed by online opportunities.”

As noted in the explanation of the Ammon model of city-owned fiber optic infrastructure (a link to which can be found on the City of Ammon website):

1. Most experts agree that broadband today is largely a natural monopoly.

2. Broadband regulation via antitrust and consumer-protection laws has proven deficient.

3. Broadband is arguably already a public utility.

The city of Idaho Falls will be embarking on a path embraced by over 450 communities across the nation; namely building a citywide community based fiber optic network. Access to a reliable high-speed broadband infrastructure has become an essential service analogous to rural electrification and telephony communications implementation of years past. City leaders realize that digital participation is necessary for an informed and engaged citizenry. This past winter city employees presented to the public, at several gatherings, the various options for expansion of Idaho Falls’ fiber network. Considering the anticipated cost of the options range from approximately $21 million to almost $80 million, it is necessary that an enlightened rigorous debate occur before such a large, yet necessary, project is undertaken.

In his commentary of April 25, Post Register publisher Roger Plothow pointed out that a significant group of people wish to engage in discourse on the issues but are unsure as to where to find appropriate information. With that in mind I present the following policy reports for consideration:

o Strategies for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships

Published by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

o The Emerging World of Broadband Public-Private Partnerships: A Business Strategy and Legal Guide

Published by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice

o Gigabit Communities: Technical Strategies for Facilitating Public or Private Broadband Construction in Your Community

Published by CTC Technology and Energy (with financial support from Google Inc.)


o Building Broadband Commons: Tools for Planners and Communities

Published by the Open Technology Institute and New America Foundation


Unless one is a policy geek like myself I do not expect many to read these entire documents, but I do hope, should you be interested, you would peruse the introduction and/or executive summary of each. Next: My choice of the proposed fiber optic infrastructure options.

Patten, a lifelong learner who holds multiple degrees, is a member of the Eastern Idaho Jazz Society, the City Club of Idaho Falls, AARP and the ACLU of Idaho.


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