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Utahns Know Community Broadband Isn’t So Simple

January 21, 2015

Utah FlagYesterday the editorial board at Utah’s Deseret News weighed in on President Barack Obama’s support of government-owned broadband networks (GONs).

As CNE readers know, Utah residents have plenty of experience with GONs. Provo sold its network to Google for $1 after it couldn’t turn a profit and the cities and counties involved in the UTOPIA network have been looking for a private buyer for their system for the last few years. Indeed, the Deseret News reminded the president that Utahns are “struggling to dig out from millions of dollars of public debt caused by failed, or failing, public broadband ventures.”

That’s why the newspaper said it supports state municipal broadband laws that attempt to address and prevent some of the worst problems associated with GONs. The editorial board argued these laws are necessary to protect taxpayers like those in Provo, who were left with $39 million in debt associated with their failed system, or UTOPIA taxpayers who have faced (and voted down) property tax increases and new utility fees to pay for their struggling network.

The editorial board called the president’s suggestion that the federal government override these laws “a breath-taking usurpation of a state’s right to regulate commerce within its borders.”

The Deseret News did praise the president’s focus on broadband, especially rural broadband, but suggested a couple of alternatives to his plan to expand the number of municipal broadband networks. Instead of encouraging more GONs the newspaper said the federal government should free up more spectrum, which would allow an expansion of mobile broadband in rural areas, or require private Internet Service Providers to provide broadband to a certain number of rural communities.

The editorial board concluded, “Internet service is a rapidly changing industry. Even if fiber optic remains the standard, the ways to bring signals from that cable to the home are constantly improving. Government simply isn’t nimble enough to stay atop equipment needs” and advised “the states that have figured this out ought to do all they can to resist Washington’s attempts to nullify their laws.”