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Savannah Morning News Skeptical About Government Broadband

January 3, 2017

Just before Christmas, Savannah, Ga. announced a plan to participate in a study that would evaluate potential city technology upgrades. City Manager Rob Hernandez reportedly gave few details about the study, including how much it would cost taxpayers. (Hernandez said the cost would be “slight.”)

The Savannah Morning News is worried about the level of transparency surrounding this announcement, and surrounding the city’s plan for a government-owned Internet system. The column said Hernandez has been “stingy on the details” regarding the technology upgrades, which would allow an “unnamed” company to conduct a pilot program in Savannah. The News argued, “Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez must be more forthcoming if he expects public buy-in … especially if any public funding is involved.”

The article also noted that the “city already is in the process of completing a broadband study that it supposed to help the city develop a fiber and wireless infrastructure strategy for improving government capabilities and online access for residents and businesses.” That study cost a reported $65,200 and is due to be completed this spring. According to The News, Hernandez has not explained “how this [broadband] initiative dovetails with the allegedly ‘revolutionary’ technology offered in the so-called pilot project he unveiled just before Christmas.” The News noted that Marietta, Ga. lost nearly $13 million on its government owned network in the early 2000s.

It’s not only the taxpayer expense that worries The News. The column also cautioned city leaders about competing with private jobs creators, arguing that allowing the government to compete against private firms for customers is “fundamentally unfair” since “the government, unlike private businesses, is subsidized by taxpayers.”

The column also notes that private sector Internet Service Providers continue to make new investments in Chatham County and concludes that, “if the private sector is investing its own money on speedier service then there is no reason for the city to duplicate that effort by investing the city’s limited resources on the same service and then competing for business from among the same pool of potential customers.”