IndyWeek.com has a great article about the city of Wilson, North Carolina and their efforts to develop a publicly owned broadband network. Wilson isn’t the first city to do something like this; in fact, as of April 2008, there were 44 government/municipal ISPs in the U.S. serving 60 cities. But what makes this interesting is how commercial ISPs – Time Warner Cable and Embarq DSL specifically – are reacting to this government-sponsored one-upsmanship. They’ve pushed legislation before the state government that effectively prohibits government-owned competition (not in so many words, but that’s the net effect.) But I won’t bore you with the details that are available elsewhere.
As you can imagine, this is the gateway to any number of intriguing discussions. Should Bend undertake a similar effort? Would cheap, government owned broadband help attract businesses to the area? Is broadband service really a utility? If so, how does it compare to other local utilities, such as Water and Sewer (hmm… flooding issues, anyone?). I could go on and on. But for now, let me just throw down a few bullets:
- Wilson’s fiber network is funded with $28M in bonds
- Wilcon population is 50K (compared to Bend’s 80K)
- The “Fiber to the Home” council website has some great resources and whitepapers. This whitepaper [PDF] in particular is worth a read. In addition to the data on how many municipal ISPs there are, the paper includes these tidbits:
- No municipal ISP has yet “failed”
- Average “take rate” (%’age of potential subscribers that sign up) is 54%
- Most municipal business plans only require a 30-40% take rate to be profitable.
- Many municipalities report increases in home-based businesses, and increased attractiveness to businesses considering relocating to the area.
- Our nearest public network is the one in Ashland (I think?)
One thing I don’t have a good feel for is what the interest for something like this would be locally. Bend Broadband has (IMHO) always been one of the better ISPs in the nation. Do we really need something like this? If so why? What would be the most relevant issues? (And what would it mean to have an ISP that was subject to the whim and mercy of voters???)