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Communities Conducting Broadband Surveys

October 17, 2012

We have noticed recently a number of news stories about communities conducting surveys about their area’s broadband needs. The Tonawanda News in New York and the Carroll County Times in Maryland are the latest.

It is a good sign for taxpayers that these communities are methodically evaluating their current infrastructure and asking consumers not only what they have and lack, but the types of service they want.

It’s an even better sign that some of these communities have said their first priority after receiving the results of these surveys is to approach private sector companies to discuss how non-governmental institutions can fulfill the city’s needs.  According to the Tonawanda Times, Evhen Tupis, an IT professional and resident who is helping with his community’s survey, “The idea is to do the heavy lifting with the market study, and then use the intelligence from that study to find the most cost-effective and sustainable way to provide service … The last thing we want to do is invoke a service that would have to be subsidized by the municipalities.”

The study in Maryland will “include an assessment of the city’s long-term broadband needs, a market and benefits study, analysis and business plan, a detailed installation plan and options for potential funding opportunities.” As we’ve noted several times before these sorts of studies are often lacking before communities launch plans for government-owned broadband networks. We applaud Westminister, Md. for the complexity of its study, which will also include “a report on the benefits and risks of community broadband initiatives on various fields including education, public safety, healthcare, economic development and government services.” To help the town get started, we refer officials there to our study from Dr. Joseph P. Fuhr and the National Taxpayers Union’s excellent review of government-owned broadband networks.

And, here again, are the results of our own surveys on the topic:

In Florida, we found 73 percent of respondents opposed allowing local governments to use taxpayer funds to compete against the private sector. Only 14 percent favored using taxpayer funds for this purpose; 13 percent were undecided. 53 percent opposed the basic idea of allowing local governments to offer the same Internet service private providers offer. Furthermore, two-thirds of voters, 66 percent, said they would be more likely to vote against an official who supported tax dollars to allow local networks to compete with private providers.

In South Carolina, 77 percent of residents opposed the idea of local governments using tax dollars to compete against the private sector and just eight percent favored it. Fifty-eight opposed local governments entering the broadband business, while 22 percent supported it. Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote against political candidates who support using tax dollars for this purpose.