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Another Case Against Municipal Broadband

May 21, 2014

The Concord Monitor in New Hampshire published an excellent article by Marc Brown, the executive director of the nonprofit New England Ratepayers Association, last week. Brown argued against municipal broadband because of the taxpayer cost. (The Monitor’s editorial board had previously written in favor of municipal broadband.) For example, Brown notes that Concord “has several broadband providers that serve its residents” and asks why taxpayers should have to foot the bill for another system especially when “Municipal interference in the market drives out private sector providers, discourages additional investment in existing networks and ultimately leaves ratepayers with inferior service …”

iStock_000005643842MediumBrown also takes apart claims made by municipal broadband supporter Susan Crawford who told the Monitor, “a limited number of Americans have access to it (high-speed internet access), many can’t afford it …”

Like the Coalition for the New Economy has pointed out, Brown notes “96 percent of housing units in the United States have access to wireline broadband and 99 percent of Americans have access to at least one wireless broadband provider.” He argues the private sector is responsible for these strong numbers since they’ve invested more than $1 trillion in broadband infrastructure over the last 18 years. Brown also disputes the notion that Americans’ broadband is slow. He reports, “85 percent of U.S. households having access to network speeds of 100 mbps and 82 percent of the nation’s population able to choose from at least four wireless broadband providers.”

Finally, Brown reviews one of New England’s biggest municipal broadband failures. He tells the story of Burlington Telecom, which violated state law and failed to pay back a $17 million loan from city taxpayers. He also noted the Chattanooga, Tenn. municipal broadband system is more than $200 million in debt despite receiving $110 million from federal taxpayers.

Brown concludes by pointing out the fact that Concord is “having difficulty raising capital to renovate Main Street.”

If the city can’t take care of these basic infrastructure needs, do local taxpayers really think it can handle running a broadband system?

We doubt it.