Cities matter to broadband investors

19 March 2014 by Steve Blum
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Just looking the same isn’t enough

The quality of your broadband service depends on whether or not you live in an incorporated city. A study I recently completed for the East Bay Broadband Consortium – East Bay Broadband Report Card – found that broadband infrastructure is generally worse in unincorporated communities than in adjacent and economically similar cities.
Western Contra Costa County is an economically disadvantaged area, on the whole. The major city – Richmond – has a high crime and poverty rates, as do several of the unincorporated communities that surround it. But Richmond’s broadband infrastructure rated a solid “C” in the EBBC’s grading analysis, while grades in surrounding unincorporated areas ranged from a “C-” in North Richmond and East Richmond Heights down to a “D-” in Montalvin Manor. Broadband infrastructure grades go back up, though, in unincorporated cities that border those areas on other sides. San Pablo, El Cerrito and Pinole all scored a “C”.
As I concluded in the report

The implication is that the lack of a municipal government is an additional negative factor for economically disadvantaged areas, in regards to attracting investment by broadband service providers.

The study didn’t go so far as to identify the reason broadband is better in cities, but possible explanations include well-defined business districts that boost demand for broadband, generally better underlying infrastructure such as roads and utility service, and more stringent building codes and other standards, backed up by better enforcement. To one degree or another, those are all tools that cities can manage in ways that encourage (or discourage) broadband infrastructure development. Counties can too, of course, but it’s cities that have the greater resources and ability to do so.