Study spots “third wave” of community broadband enthusiasm, but no swell of cash

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Wipeout

A “third wave” of community broadband initiatives is developing in the United States, but before it’s surfable, state and federal policy changes are needed. That’s the conclusion of a paper written by Sharon Strover, Martin Riedl and Selena Dickey, of the University of Texas at Austin.

They identify barriers deliberately created by lobbyists working for major incumbents and their capture of policy making machinery – such as the Federal Communication Commission’s industry-dominated broadband deployment advisory committee which offered legislative recommendations that would “eliminate municipal broadband”. But they also see community and corporate trends that are pushing against monopoly business models…

We see potential for community network development in the United States, acknowledging existing projects but also an abundance of obstacles. Their presence and growth testifies to the need for alternative regulatory arrangements…

New connectivity models in the space of community networks, innovation in terms of open source hardware, newly opened spectrum such as TV white spaces, as well as investments through private corporations into connectivity efforts such as terragraph (Facebook) and satellite internet (Facebook, Google, others), all foment this third wave of community networking efforts, but can only succeed in the long run if they are simultaneously accompanied by supportive federal and state policies. In the broad scheme of things, this calls for an end to protectionist legislation curtailing the opportunities to experiment and to offer services that communities themselves believe are more efficient, less costly and more attuned to their needs.

Strover, Riedl and Dickey are correct in calling for open and creative use of public money earmarked for educational and medical networks, greater flexibility in federal programs and more widely available state and local subsidies “to various types of providers”.

That’s a good start toward solving the critical problem that community, and particularly municipal, initiatives face: paying for building a network and for operating deficits that might last far longer than advocates generally care to contemplate. But it’s only a partial solution. Consumers and businesses also have to embrace the reality that better infrastructure and service comes at a price, and universal infrastructure and service comes at a universal price. There’s a point where someone else’s money becomes everyone’s money.

TANSTAAFL.

Scoping New Policy Frameworks for Local Broadband Networks, Strover, Riedl and Dickey.