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Madison Taxpayers Already Overtaxed, But City Might Build Muni Network Anyway

November 21, 2017

muni networkMatt Kittle, an investigative reporter with the MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin-based think tank, believes taxpayers in Madison are getting fleeced.

He might be right.

In a column published on Nov. 15, Kittle reported that the Madison Common Council has spent $841,00 in pursuit of a taxpayer-financed, government-owned broadband network—and might spend more even though a municipal network is unnecessary. (Currently, there are 12 residential subscribers serving Madison, three of which provide speeds of at least 50 megabits per second in at least 85 percent of the city. Additionally, as Kittle notes, Charter Communications recently launched low-cost, high-speed broadband service for low-income Madisonians.)

Several years ago, the city contracted with CTC Technology and Energy, a consultant based in Kensington, Md., to determine the need for a “citywide ultra high-speed fiber based broadband network, either directly or through public-private partnership.”

The study that resulted from that contract found a citywide network would cost taxpayers $140 million.

The council ultimately decided to move forward with a pilot project concentrated on low-income neighborhoods, which, as Kittle notes, already were served by the private sector.

Kittle explains that the pilot project has been a failure, plagued with delays and unable to attract the attention of potential customers. Today the network is available to 358 households. Only 17 (about 4.7 percent) have subscribed to the service even though it costs only $9.99 per month.

Despite its low subscribership rate and despite the fact that, according to a city survey 95 percent of residents already have an Internet connection, the council is considering whether to expand the city’s network. Kittle argues that’s foolish. He believes Madison’s taxpayers already are “overburdened” and that the city shouldn’t invest money into a service that the private sector can—and does—a provide.

It appears Kittle is right about taxpayers being overburdened. As Madison.Com reported, on Nov. 14, the day before Kittle’s report appeared, the Madison City Council voted for a capital budget that “will raise the tax bill on an average Madison home, valued at $269,377, by $93 in 2018 for a total average tax bill of $2,510.”