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How Much Does City-Wide Internet Cost? Madison Finds Out

August 10, 2016

2000px-Flag_of_Wisconsin.svgMadison, Wis. already has a limited government-owned fiber system that offers internet service to public buildings, including schools, libraries, and fire stations. Last year, leaders said they were interested in finding out how much it would cost to expand the network to “every resident and business in the city.”

They hired an outside consultant to study the issue and, according to the Wisconsin State Journal, that study found the cost would be “roughly more than $200 million.” The study suggests that cost be shared between taxpayers and the private sector, but, as the State Journal notes, “How much of that funding would fall on the city depends on how much private companies would be willing to invest in the project and how much funding the city can get from the federal government …”

Regardless, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin seemed to embrace the expansion. He said, “We are going to be a world-class city for everyone … We’re talking about every school, every neighborhood center, every household in Madison, Wisconsin.” Soglin did acknowledge “covering the cost for the project would be a challenge …”

According to the State Journal, CTC Technology and Energy, a consultancy in Maryland that completed the study, “recommended” the expansion, but suggested the city shouldn’t sell directly to customers. Instead, CTC wants the city to “build and own the fiber network” and find “private businesses” to “provide internet service and build lines connecting individual users to the network.” This method would allow the city to “retain some degree of control over” private providers.

Incredibly, considering the long list of government internet failures, Mayor Soglin asked,  “How could anybody lose under those circumstances?”

Fortunately for taxpayers, “Wisconsin state law lists a number of conditions that must be met for a city to be able to provide internet service, including a feasibility study and public hearings.” According to the State Journal, the city council plans to fulfill one of those requirements—holding a public hearing on the issue—“in the coming months.”