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Municipal Networks as Alternative to Commercial Broadband? 291

kenny asks: "There was a front page Wall Street Journal article last month (Aug. 17--sub. required) about local municipalities like Tacoma, Wash. and Coldwater, Mich. building out public fiber-optic networks through tax-free bond issues and run like local utilities. My question is what's been people's experience with municipal broadband networks? It seems like it's made people happy, and if the internet is like a public utility and if companies are dragging their feet about providing service, why shouldn't municipalities take it upon themselves to deliver service for their constituents?"

"Universally, it seems, people get better service and prices when such networks are implemented. It also forces telecom companies operating in the area to offer better service and prices as well, in short, to compete. But it's also increased companies' lobbying efforts against such municipal activity and it's not hard to see why such companies like AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications (controlled by Microsoft), and Qwest don't like it."

Not many municipalities are saavy enough to think about deploying this sort of infrastructure, however. For those in that situation, what kind of lobbying efforts must a municipality put together before village/town/city officials will take notice? If the government does notice, what kind of arguments should be made to convince them that it might be worthwhile to make such an undertaking?

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Municipal Networks as Alternative to Commercial Broadband?

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  • The Only Way? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by piecewise ( 169377 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:29AM (#2319352) Journal
    This might be the only way to get broadband out there faster. The way it is today, service providers are stuck in a corner. They know the demand is out there for broadband. People DO want it, for the most part. They also know that broadband (DSL, for example), has certain requirements like distance which can hinder performance.

    So if I live too far from the main DSL switch building, too bad for me! Also, broadband is dependent on the physical characteristics of a customer zone. If I live in an area with old cable networks and nasty phone lines... that just adds to list of what must be upgraded.

    So the service providers must be content for now in offering to the few. (I live in a very snazzy community with a lot of money. All of them would buy broadband, yet nobody can get it. So even with guaranteed customers (and hundreds of them), it still might not be profitable!)

    Having municipal networks would really bring broadband out. I'm all for it. If we let the markets do it themselves, it'll take years. Not that municipal networks would suddenly spring up overnight, but they would guarantee more broadband (significantly so) and would guarantee a standard and central office from which others could branch themselves.

    Having government doing stuff private businesses normally do can have very good effects in certain situations...
    • The UK have another hinderance under the guise of British Telecom. BT hold nearly all the phone lines, and as a result smaller companies find it difficult to offer ADSL at a reasonable rate. Blueyonder and such companies are now managing to do this, but it still depends on whether BT have set up their exchanges yet - they're slow.

      Municipal networks can help to get rid of this problem. Networks such as the South West Group for Learning connect schools etc. over a WAN, and in turn the schools get 2MB 'net access for a relatively small fee.

      Oftel (the phone network regulations people) are clamping down on BT, and as a result ADSL is becoming more widely available, but for small businesses and schools, municpal networks are still one of the best ways to go.

    • Sorry, piecewise, I have to disagree. When government does stuff private businesses do, everyone pays for it, even the people who don't want it. That's wrong, and generally leads to political fights, which get ugly and waste time. It's better to form a private assocation -- a bandwidth cooperative -- to solve this problem, and work closely with government to get permission to run cables, use public rights of way, etc.
      -russ
      • When government does stuff private businesses do, everyone pays for it, even the people who don't want it.

        Not necessarily. Most public utilities (water, electricity, etc.) are government-owned "authorities" which are not tax supported. All their revenue comes from user fees (which also means that they have the same profit and loss pressures as a private company, which is a good thing).

        At most, the impact on taxpayers is that the municipality's credit is used to float bonds. If the capitalization of the authority requires a lot of borrowing, it can hurt the municipality's bond rating, making future borrowing for tax-supported projects (like school construction) more expensive.

        I don't know for sure, but I'd assume that's how these broadband networks are being structured.
      • Russ Nelson writes "...everyone pays for it, even the people who don't want it. That's wrong...". I don't agree. I think you're ignoring *society* and *social living*. Roughly speaking, if you want to live in this society, you need to support the society's goals (not agree, but *support*). That's what social living is about. I'm not talking about that evil socialism that infects some European countries (-sarcasm), I mean building cities together, agreeing to the creation of a government, etc.

        If the society decides to build a light rail system, it doesn't matter whether you'll use it personally. You still need to support the project financially. Same goes for municpal networks, postal service, etc. I don't use rural mail delivery, but I need to help pay for it *because it is the right thing to do*. We need to carefully consider if municpal networks are also "the right thing to do". I think they are, because I don't want our communications infrastructure's fate to depend on "shareholder interests". I think communications infrastructure is too important to leave to "market forces" (i.e. the rich win, the poor lose).

        -Paul Komarek
        • If it's "the right thing to do", then why won't a private association be able to do it?

          By the way, do you think that a store infrastructure is too important to leave to market forces? If so, explain why Wal*Mart has successfully lowered the cost of purchasing for the poor.

          You have no clue what you're talking about when you refer to market forces as being something where the rich win and the poor lose. Get your head out of your butt and learn some economics before you graduate. Too bad economics isn't a required subject for engineers anymore.
          -russ
          • 1) Why are you so hostile? Looks like antisocial behavior to me. ;-)
            2) I'm not an engineer.
            3) Was economics ever required for engineering students? (in general)
            4) I didn't say a private association couldn't do the right thing. I'm suggesting that a private associations usually do the right thing only when it is profitable. "Why else would you go into business?" is the mantra I usually hear. This is doubly true for "publicly held" companies (a phrase which confuses most of the Europeans I've used it with), because they have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders.

            5) I'm only somewhat familiar with economics, mostly from a mathematical modeling point of view (I'm a mathematician). However, I think your Wal*Mart example is spurious -- they've lowered the cost for everyone, not just the poor; and they sure didn't take this action because it would help the poor. It's not hard to imagine that they lowered their prices to improve their market share, turning a bigger profit due to volume.

            As far as market forces go, I believe the idea is to "fairly" distribute scarce resources (for some definition of "fair"). If I understand correctly, the idea of capitalism is to make the distribution (well, market is a better word than distribution) more efficient by introducing competition in various aspects of the distribution (market). This says nothing about helping the poor, unless you put it in the definition of "fair". However, I don't believe anyone has suggested that being kind to the poor is part of market "fairness".

            More conspiratorially-minded (okay, that's a made-up word) folks might suggest that nobody, not even the government, does the right thing any more than is necessary to keep the lower classes from revolting. These aren't my words, these come from a political science class.

            -Paul Komarek
            • The problem is that people will NEVER agree on what is fair and what is not fair. So rather than try to do what is not possible, it makes more sense to do what is efficient, and let people choose to make up for the unfairness on their own. The efficiency gives them the resources to do it, and the freedom of the market gives them the ability to do it.

              So no, private associations many times will do things that are not profitable. For example, the Shriners, or the Kiwanis, or the Rotary, or the Red Cross, or .... the examples are numerous.
              -russ
    • They could use wireless, putting access points on towers in key locations. Problem solved.
    • If it's done by local governments, it's probably safer than if it's done by megacorps. It's not the kind of organization, it's the accountability. Local governments are relatively responsive. That's not high praise, but it's the best we've got available. Since there are right-of-way requirements, a small group can't do it. It's true, as someone suggested, that wireless is an option, and that should be the province of small companies. (Large companies should be forbidden from the use of the spectra!)

      Unfortunately, shoulds are cheap. We've got (in the US) a government that's in love with large organizations. We'll end up paying for this, sooner or later, but for now the large organizations are getting support from the government, and the small and mid-size groups are getting the shaft. So municipal governments are probably the best option. But they should use fixed cable.
  • Ups and downs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:29AM (#2319355)
    Right after I read it I was really excited about this idea. Get out from under Verizon? You betcha!

    But, during the (10 second) interval it took between when I clicked "post comment" and when the textbox finally appeared, I rethought. Provide to whom? As a gov't service they can't discriminate. Which is great for us Linux users--no more crappy DHCP/VPN-disabled junk. But pretty sucky for the administrators who have to have configs available for everything from Win98 to VMS to OS2 to BeOS.

    Of course, in actual practice they'd only provide service for the "popular" OS's. Which defeats the whole purpose of having a public utility in the first place.

    For the love of God, Covad, run a damn line to my house so I can get Speakeasy! Or at least give me a estimate of when you CAN do it so I know how long the wait will be.
    • Well, I have Covad (through CAIS, as I wanted to make sure to get a business class line, and be allowed servers and a block of IPs), and at this point, I'm just hoping Covad stays up.

      I've had enough problems with GTE in the past, and even though I'm in what was a Bell Atlantic area, from what I've heard about Verizon, it's sounding more like GTE with their customer service.

      So well, depending on how things go, you might get your Covad line out there just in time for them to fold...and watch your service get bought by Verizon.

      I'm hoping that with the reported increase in teleconferencing due to the events of last week, that we'll also have more folks telcomuting, and helping to bring Covad out of the red, so this doesn't happen.
    • Re:Ups and downs (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Basje ( 26968 )

      But, during the (10 second) interval it took between when I clicked "post comment" and when the textbox finally appeared, I rethought. Provide to whom? As a gov't service they can't discriminate. Which is great for us Linux users--no more crappy DHCP/VPN-disabled junk. But pretty sucky for the administrators who have to have configs available for everything from Win98 to VMS to OS2 to BeOS.


      How is that? Why can't they just put a box in your home which has a 10.x.x.x ip address, and do some nat later down the line?

      Of course, there will be people whining they cannot run servers off that, or other other limitations. Those people should realize, that, as with all public services there'll be a certain service level for a certain price. If you want/need anything other, you'll have to pay for it yourself.

      In that respect, one can compare it to public roads or sewers. You pay for 'em by taxes. If they're not what you want, you still have to pay. You're free to build your own besides, but you will have to pay for those as well, by yourself.

      Still, most people think public roads and sewers, while not perfect, are better than dirtroads, and dumping everything in the street. YMMV.

      Thus, if internet access is to become a public service, it has to be determined what the service level will be, for what price, and then we'll talk again.
    • Or they could just use standards (DHCP) and bring the wire to the house and say have fun with it.

      If there is a problem, they send a tech out to the line of demarcation - the line on the back of the house with a DHCP notebook to test it. If he gets on and you don't, it must be a personal thing. $75 per incident to fix it.

      Nice? probably not, but it is fair. Just as there is a market for plumbers and electricians when something goes wrong, perhaps there should be one for networkers :)
    • -no more crappy DHCP/VPN-disabled junk.

      Excellent! I'm supprised by all the negative posts here by people who seem to want to criple themselves without reason. BASJE, for intstance, wrote, "Of course, there will be people whining they cannot run servers off that, or other other limitations. Those people should realize, that, as with all public services there'll be a certain service level for a certain price. If you want/need anything other, you'll have to pay for it yourself.", as if there's a real technical reason to limit bandwith uplinks and as if people can't chose to pay for good bandwith through a municipality. These arguments sound chillingly similar to the old comercial software trolls, "you only get what you pay for and giving me all your money is the best of all worlds." The net was designed as a collection of equal peers and changes weaken it. The web will only be a viable media for publication if it remains free and accesible. Do not surrender your rights to publish on this new media for the sake of a few companies profits!

      But pretty sucky for the administrators who have to have configs available for everything from Win98 to VMS to OS2 to BeOS.

      Well, what's the problem? Set up a standard for connections that's stable and works. If M$ wants to make things hard for their users, too bad. The post office does not teach you how to pack letters, do they? They simply have guidlines for size and weight. At some point some users have to do something for themselves, and it's no different from the inhomogenious world that admins have to deal with right now.

    • Who says the basic service has to provide anything other than IP, gateway, and DNS? A municipal service shouldn't provide anything other than the bare minimum needed for connectivity. Their job is to deliver the bits to your house -- if they can ping your router/modem/whatever, they've done that job. Anything extra over that should be left to a commercial service provider. If you can't set up your PC to talk to the router, that's your problem.

      Municipal broadband should be treated like any municipal water: they are responsible for the pipe up until it enters your house. If you've got a leak at the curb, you call the department of public works. If you've got a leak inside your house, you call your own plumber. You don't expect DPW to fix the plumbing inside your house, nor should you expect a municipal ISP to fix any configuration problems on your hardware.

  • by tmark ( 230091 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:33AM (#2319364)
    why shouldn't municipalities take it upon themselves to deliver service for their constituents?"


    They shouldn't do this for the same reason they shouldn't be installing cable tv services, or telephone services, cell phone networks, or movie theaters: these are non-essential services which the private sector is willing and able to provide, and which governments have little experience or expertise with. The only thing governments should be providing for us are public goods which the private sector cannot or will not provide us.

    Further, I have little confidence in the ability of a municipal or other government to provide efficient, inexpensive Internet (or other) services, and I can think of many more things I would rather have them provide or improve. If the government really feels a need to provide their citizens with connectivity I think it is best done with a limited number of Internet kiosks at places like libraries, city halls, etc, but I would vote against anybody who would suggest that providing more than this is the job of our government.

    • "The only thing governments should be providing for us are public goods which the private sector cannot or will not provide us."

      Maybe downtown Seattle has a lot of choices, but out here near the sticks I have exactly one broadband choice: Verizon. People actually IN the sticks have zero options.
      • It is great marketing if your a dot-com trying to sell something, but the fact is most people don't need broadband or even want it.

        Government should stay out of it, if not, then they should be required to buy up ALL existing broadband before competeing with those private companies which spent money on it.

        It seems that gamers and geeks are the primary wanters of broadband, and they make grandiose claims of the universal need for it without ever proving it. Just like the failed dot-coms, the lies is still there, not the need.
    • ": these are non-essential services which the private sector is willing and able to provide"
      Ummm.. NO, they are not willing, and they are not able to provide these services. I've lived in an area that is just outisde the range of DSL. The local company keeps pushing the DSL availability date back by 6 months. Same thing with 2-way cable modems. These companies are content with service the customers they have, they are not interested is serving a wider range of people because it just isn't profitable (enough).
      • Exactly! I live in downtown Springfield Virginia, only, 10 or so miles from the Pentagon *sic* and D.C.. We have two Metro stops no more than 3 miles from our house! Verizon says they have no plans to upgrade my CO enable DSL and Cox Communications has halted plans to roll out Cable Modems to my community for unspecified reasons.

        Even if either or both finally got around to offering services in my area, I'd be stuck with their definition of broadband -- an asymetric line with a pathetic up-channel (128k-ish) and so-so down-channel (640k to 1Mb).

        RBOCs and cable companies don't have the vision, will or financing to provide true broadband - fiber to the home.

        These folks [cpau.com] are on the right track, IMHO, though I hope they're planning for higher data rates in the future.
    • by sracer9 ( 126645 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:47AM (#2319419)
      I have to agree with most of what you say. I have always been a proponent for the private sector providing goods & services. However, here in Tacoma, this all happened as a result of the cable companies not being able to deliver. Like most places, we went through several of em'. From Viacom to TCI and now to AT&T. A few years ago, Viacom/TCI completely drug their feet on providing services to areas within the city. The residents were upset that they couldn't get standard basic TV services etc.. The City of Tacoma decided that adding a cable network to its utilities wasn't so bad an idea as it would extend services to areas that couldn't already get it, as well as provide consumers with a choice (where cable was available). All in all, it's worked out pretty good in Tacoma. Oddly enough, AT&T sure worked their butts off to get service in to previously un-served areas once Click was there. Now, most residents in Tacoma have a choice between Click (the City owned cable), AT&T, Qwest DSL and others.

      I'm not sure if this sort of thing would work elsewhere, but in Tacoma, it exists due to the existing private sector companies not providing the services to begin with. Sometimes competition, even from public utilities, is a *good* thing.

    • They shouldn't do this for the same reason they shouldn't be installing cable tv services, or telephone services, cell phone networks, or movie theaters: these are non-essential services which the private sector is willing and able to provide, and which governments have little experience or expertise with.

      Au contrair.

      This is exactly the kind of thing government should provide. Your libertarian visions of utopia aside, the private sector isn't providing reliable broadband to end users. I and my employer have both lost DSL service, with no warning. A colleague of mine has lost his DSL service twice, from two different, unrelated providors going out of business, again with no warning.

      Internet connectivity has arguably become as critical as having a telephone, perhaps even more so (somewhere between as critical as having a road to your house and having a telephone for many people, myself included).

      Worse, the physical cable is an example of a so-called "natural monopoly," in which it is unfeasable and arguably counter-productive to have ten or fifteen competing cable/fibre trunks going to your house. Just as it is absurd to build ten expressways along the same corridor so they can "compete," or several canals along the same route of travel between lakes or rivers.

      Whether or not government should provide full ISP services is I think an open question (there again, private ISPs are arbitrarilly disconnecting people based on allegations of wrongdoing with no due process, no standards of evidence much less proof, and no recourse ... often putting small businesses out of business in the process, so the argument that private enterprise isn't living up to basic, acceptable standards carries some degree of weight), but as for providing physical infrastructure I think there is no question that the private, pseudo-monopoly and ad-hoc regulation is an abysmal failure. Following the demonstrated success of the highway system (as opposed to, say, the struggle and arguable failure of America's private railway system, which only serves some population centers and has, during tough times, left entire industries and regions completely out in the cold, without any sort of rail service whatsoever) for the infrastructure and "last mile" makes perfect sense.

      Private ISPs could use the existing infrastructure to provide higher level services (email, DNS, web hosting, USENET news, etc.), with each competitor gaining access to the public infrastructure under the same, fair, competetive conditions. Far better than having Ameritech own the infrastructure and manipulate ever increasing, and ever more complex, regulatory systems and their accompanying loopholes to drive competitors, who do not own the underlying infrastructure, out of business.
    • Further, I have little confidence in the ability of a municipal or other government to provide efficient, inexpensive Internet (or other) services, and I can think of many more things I would rather have them provide or improve. If the government really feels a need to provide their citizens with connectivity I think it is best done with a limited number of Internet kiosks at places like libraries, city halls, etc, but I would vote against anybody who would suggest that providing more than this is the job of our government.
      It's not the job of the Federal Government to do this. I think if a town or a county, which already has fiber in place to read your utility meters, wants to provide high-speed access (probably best done by contracting the ISP infrastructure to a local, private company which is dedicated (either by division or in its entirety) to providing cheap, fair service (and I would write into the contract, were I writing it, that Thou Shalt Not use anything that ties the users to Microsoft products, Whereas Microsoft is a proven monopolist)).... then that's its business. (Literally.)

      The idea here is that you're adding to the choices a consumer can make, not taking away. This would in no shape or form be a monopoly. And if you do it right, you really could have good, fast, cheap, choose all three. (Fancy.... would not be an option. :)

    • I grew up in a rural area where electricity was provided by a coop, with infrastructure funding provided by low or non-interest loans from the government. It seems that companies love to dive in when the infrastructure is inexpensive to set up. When it is expensive, they just move to greener pastures leaving many people behinde.

      Compare to electricity and phone service. Before the government stepped in, people outside of large cities were not serviced. It became apparent that eventually, most would be, but only at a high reletive cost. In the case of electricity, people formed coops that took advantage of special government loans. In the case of phone service, the government required phone companies to provide service to all communities in their territory.

      So I guess what I'm saying is maybe a coop in which the city government is a partner or main contributer could work. The city would gain by being able to get better prices through volume for its own needs and by having happy citizens who get a service that nobody else will provide. In fact, I think I'll approach my city council and/or neighbors about this.


    • I'll throw a little more fuel on the fire here. In general broad band connectivity is a service that the market driven private sector can provide. At least in general. Where the providers beleive they have a market they'll provide services. The problem is perception. I went to school in Washington and am familar with the Sea-Tac area. Tacoma is not a bad town in general, but it's most definitely not as well off as Seattle and Bellvue. In fact, when I lived out in Olympia, people made the place sound like it was bombed out ruin of a city. I was pretty surprised the first time I took a bus out there on my way to airport. Yes, the downtown core did need a little renewal, and yes the area around the Greyhound station was a mess, but every city has its bad places. But, overall Tacoma wasn't a bad place as I would measure one. However, there was a perception that it was a bad place. And that perception seemed to be more firmly entrneched among the better off my college classmates. Given that kind of wide spread view, would a company attempting to make money off a brand new tech service aggressively pursue the market? Often times the answer is no. I'm not saying this is what happened here, but it has happened in other places with other kinds of services. Even a year ago, broad band was just sort of something that people regarded as a luxury or a status symbol, but now it's looking more and more like a necessary communications service in the same way that phone service is. So, if private providers are dragging their feet in providing what's emerging to become a necessary service, then why shouldn't a city step in to provide it. Furthermore, private providers provide a service in places where it makes economic sense. Unfortunately there are many places where people live that the business case for providing services is poor. Rural Washington comes to my mind. In these cases public sector services make sense.

    • One note; I understand PU companies would offer more infrastructure (roads, physical DSL/cable/whatever lines) than actual services (ISP). It may be that due to opposition from big players they have to offer some bare-bones ISP too, but in the perfect world, they wouldn't have to.


      I know car/road analogies are used too often and seldom fit nicely, but let's try this one; think of getting paved roads for your tax money, but paying yourself for gas (and indirectly, thus, gas stations), car, maps and all other service that relies on existence of roads. Similarly, having option to get your bare-bones wiring (and routing at least up to ISP) as low-level infrastructure thing, not as a service.


      The sad fact is there is no money to be made in providing cabling and basic connectivity.
      At least no more than in providing for paved roads; there are toll roads, but for the most part roads are in fact public. Money is supposed to come from services; few people are disputing that basic assumption. So far telephone co's and others have tried milking (big) companies, knowing end users won't be as profitable (due to cust. support etc). Now that companies are tightening their belts, this income source has mostly dried up.

    • Yeah! That stupid Internet thing the government set up has been like a total dud.
      Further, I have little confidence in the ability of a municipal or other government to provide efficient, inexpensive Internet (or other) services,..
      If there is a strategic need for a service, the government has incubated such services. I'd happily pay a little extra on rates to put in a data pipe rather than my current situation, which involves being gouged by a Telco monopoly.
  • It's worked here... (Score:2, Informative)

    by sysadmn ( 29788 )
    The city of Lebanon, Oh [lebanon.oh.us] has had great success using their system. It's run by the city's Electrical department for Cable TV & reading electric meters. They added high speed internet access - that's working well also. Of course, the local cable companies hate it - prices are only slightly cheaper, but profits go to the city to improve the service. The City is also looking into offering local phone service as well.
  • I was thinking about this last night. Internet access is pretty much ubiqitous in our lives, and (at least for me) is absolutely essential in order to function. Certain resources, like gas, electricity, and telephone service are considered essential, and the gov't sets standards and requires availibility of these services. These services are required to be availible all the time. However, IPS's [rr.com] can get away with spotty QoS, ninexistant customer support, and can just close up shop when they go broke. Shouldn't internet access be provided, subsidized, or regulated by the gov't as is any essential utility?
    • IT WON'T WORK (Score:2, Insightful)

      by caseydk ( 203763 )
      I was thinking about this last night. Internet access is pretty much ubiqitous in our lives, and (at least for me) is absolutely essential in order to function. Certain resources, like gas, electricity, and telephone service are considered essential, and the gov't sets standards and requires availibility of these services. These services are required to be availible all the time. However, IPS's [rr.com] can get away with spotty QoS, ninexistant customer support, and can just close up shop when they go broke. Shouldn't internet access be provided, subsidized, or regulated by the gov't as is any essential utility?

      The standards that are involved do not ensure the same QOS that we're used to with a standard phone or electrical system. When you pick up the phone, it's assumed that there will be a dial tone. When you try to get online (unless you have boradband like me!) you have to dial and try to get a connection. How many times have you been bumped offline? How many times have you crashed your system? How many times have other things happen where you lose your connection?

      The fundamental difference with the phone and IT systems is that the phone system works on the basis that not everyone will wnat to use the phone at any given time and even if they do, it'll just be momentary. That's why telco's started to freak when "getting online" started to become popular with the bbses. Suddenly, they had many people making many calls at about the same and then holding the line for hours.

      The tcp/ip standards has specific conditions on when it is to drop packets and degrade service for non-vital stuff because it can be re-transmitted later.

      This is also why true convergence won't work between these two systems. One works on the basis of having dumb normally unconnected terminals that require incredibly high QoS (phones) while the other works on the basis that eventually the info will get through, but the order doesn't neccessarily matter and the connection could always be live.

    • Shouldn't internet access be provided, subsidized, or regulated by the gov't as is any essential utility?

      I think the biggest problem would be in convincing governments (especially at a federal level) that internet service is an essential utility. Those who are unfamiliar with the internet and/or those whom for the internet is not essential may not see the need for regulation. Never mind convincing them that broadband is essential.

      But I think you're right. The only way to insure access to the entire country, and to insure uniform, quality service is for some government regulation to be imposed. Companies that offer this service will fight regulation tooth and nail, but it may ultimately be in their best interest.

      As far as municipal networks go, I think there are too many problems with censorship. With the line being owned and operated by the government, they would argue that they should be able to control the content being carried over it. I'll settle for a slower service that's unfiltered than a faster service that is filtered. I'd hate to be doing a research paper on, say Nazi Germany, and get held up because anything with the word "Nazi" in it gets filtered out (of course, there are bigger issues than this; it's just what came to mind).

      Noticing that my comments are getting longer, but aren't really saying any more,
    • C'mon. Internet service IS NOT essential. I'm an internet junkie too, but I don't NEED it to live. Water, necessary. Heat, necessary (especially here in Boston). Electricity... well, I'd bump into stuff after 5 PM if I didn't have it and hospitals use it to keep people alive, fairly necessary. But the internet? No. I would even argue that the telephone services are not essential, only that the telco's own all the cabling, so the little-guy providers need some sort of regulation to help them exist. How decadent of a country do we live in when we think internet access is necessary?

      psxndc

      PS To be fair, I feel very awkward when my ISP is down, but I get a lot more chores done. ;-)

  • Right now in many areas ISPs must be in bed with the local Bell monopoly, or use a DSL provider who may not be around tomorrow. If the county I was in provided such a network for any two points in the county to talk to each other (read not internet connection) then I would tunnel to my local ISP for my internet connection. This could also let people telecommute by tunneling to the company they work at (if you work in the same county you reside in, or the adjacent and they have an agreement).

    Sounds like a win to me. Especially since the local Bell monopolies won't loose anything, just not get control of another market. Sign me up!
  • It will be built with tax payer dollars, and when the local government needs more cash they will sell it off to the highest bidding private corporation.
  • I can remember voting for Holland Michigan to install a state of the art fiber optic ring around the city and it was supposed to be this great thing. Well, it's about 3 or 4 years later and you still can't get any kind of cable modem or digital cable in the city limits. Unfortunately I live in the city limits. So the city has a MONOPOLY on the digital access. Except DSL which sucks in it's own way. I have DSL anyway. I think there are businesses on the system but no public access. I believe that it was my/our tax dollars that created the system but I have no way to use it. Holland BLOWS! At the end of last year I believe that the city and ATT Broadband had finally come to an agreement about sharing the lines but the ATT tech I talked to said it would be at least 18 months before we would see anything.
  • Why shouldn't they? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wunderhorn1 ( 114559 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:39AM (#2319400)
    Because every yahoo with some "family values" agenda to push will be demanding filtering and God knows what else on these "public" pipes. I do not want add any more reasons for people to feel they can restrict what I do on the internet, and making my connection "public property" sounds like a prime candidate for the far Right to try to push their values on me.


    Plus, the US Gov't doesn't have the greatest track record on building things on-time or on-budget, nor on keeping things in shape.

    I'd rather see more Gov't incentives for private companies to build private infrastructure and Gov't regulations to insure consumers are protected.

    • Not to mention that this is the same government that passed the DMCA and is hold Skylarov (sp?). Do you really want them in charge of your internet too?

      Remember, you can't sue the feds...

    • We aren't talking about the Federal Gov't. We're talking about municipalities. Effectively, this is the same as getting together with your 5,000 best friends and sharing the costs associated with running an ISP and installing the needed infrastructure. Only the relationship is formalized, and the City Gov't already has lawyers.

    • This thought has also crossed my mind.

      I live in a city that has both a municipal fiber network that nobody is exploiting commercially for internet access (for a variety of reasons... mostly the politics of business in a small city...) and a very vocal group of internet censorship advocates (As reported in-depth [slashdot.org] on Slashdot).

      "I don't want my tax dollars paying for a pervert's access to internet smut!" has already been heard here. Should the local Board of Public Works reverse their current stance and consider offering some kind of municipal internet service, I have no doubt that there would be some significant fallout. I can't help but think that this has come up in policy meetings and is a part of why the city doesn't in fact go into the ISP business. :\



    • Private associations [slashdot.org] may or may not choose to discriminate, but at least you only have to worry about the people you've chosen to associate with instead of every single yahoo taxpayer.
      -russ
    • Um, we're not talking about the US government here...this would be done by municipalities, some of which have been running municipal utilities districts at lower cost (and with better service) than private utilities for years.


      Then again, I don't think you thought much before posting...

    • Running I wire to your house is different from providing Internet service. The last mile of physical infrastructure is the part that the gov't should be building out. Then, the person who lives at one of the wire gets to say what is hooked up at the other end. That way, there isn't any room for the govt to get involved with content filtering. After all, the govt doesn't say that you can't use your public water for obscene purposes, do they?
  • I envy my brother tremendously. He lives in Evansville, IN; I live in the Louisville Metro area (about 10 times the population as his town). His electric company runs a broadband ISP service. They just showed up with a box and it works! He is nearly computer illiterate and has not had a problem. IP as commodity; I like it. ISP as utility; great idea.
  • We read recently [infoworld.com] elsewhere about people buying cheapo 802.11b kit and simply plugging it in, essentially giving their neighbours [sic] a free leg-up on to the Internet. How does this compare with what you're proposing, that local municipalities deploy a public service style network?

    I would think that a public sector MAN would be somewhere between the two extremes that we currently have. On one end, corporate cable provided by the usual suspects, and on the other extreme the so-called "parasitic grid". What would happen instead if a local county council (or US equivalent) subsidised cheap 802.11b receivers / transmitters? The expensive bit would be for the up-link which could potentially be a cost shared more equally across the community. For instance, your electricity shouldn't cost more simply because you live further from the power station, so why not employ a similar equality scheme for 'net traffic?

    Personally I can't help but think that the ultimate direction for all this is for the "swarm effect" [compaq.com] written about in the lamented Rapidly Changing Face of Computing [compaq.com], where personal transmitting devices effectively become a collosal wireless network.

    Aegilops
  • The experience with municipal power indicates that this is not beneficial in the long term. The municipal power systems grow to be more expensive, lower quality, poorer service than commercial power. This effect is also seen in things like the Post Office vs UPS or Fedex. At the beginning, they may be quite good, but it becomes a bureaucratic entitlement operation. Also, politics is a poor way to make strategic technology decisions. The local telephone company strategies were controlled by politicians and regulators for decades, and look how they dealt with innovation.

    Much more effective is changing the regulatory and licensing cost structure so that there can be several alternatives. It is presently very expensive to get the licenses to install systems. Only the very high value streets (like office parks) are worth the cost. Elsewhere, it is limited to retrofits to pre-existing systems (cable, electric, etc.).

    In my area, it is the towns with multiple alternative providers that get the best service. This has the unfortunate side effect that the towns with only one provider get the least investment and worsening service. For a while, this will widen the difference between the towns rather than reduce it. The same effect happens with monopoly municipal offerings.

    There is often a problem attracting vendors to small markets. A better approach than the monopoly municipal is a non-monopoly cooperative. If the municipality makes the licensing easy for everyone, a cooperative can be set up. If the market remains very small, the coop may remain the only player. But if the market takes off, the coop knows that it must remain responsive or a commercial vendor will enter the market. Coops have been highly successful in other markets, and they co-exist well with commercial vendors. When the government remains neutral the coops that continue to provide good service thrive, the commercial operations that provide good service thrive, and the low quality vendors fail.
  • In my job, I deal with goverment in a few states in the Northeast. The state of Michigan as a whole seems to be leading the way in bringing their state into the networked world. Michigan is ahead of the curve with legislation to allow offices (at least at the county level, which I deal with) to not only offer services over the internet, but also charge fees allowing them to break even doing so. In the end, it doesn't cost the tax payers much. (At least that is my impression) Many customers (counties) in other states have a hard time putting information on the internet, since there is no way to pay the cost of doing so. In many cases, the laws make it very cost prohibitive, either in the short or long term.

    I bet this project will work because it is probably run like a break even business, instead of a government bucacracey (sp?) that most slashdotters would expect from government project like this. I would love something like this in my area, but the demographic is not well suited for it.

    -Pete
  • by waxmop ( 195319 ) <waxmop&overlook,homelinux,net> on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @09:51AM (#2319427)
    Because it's really the same thing.

    The US has a postal system is run by the government and not the private sector in order to make sure ALL citizens get some degree of service, or "connectivity" in /. parlance.

    Note how the Postal Service provides a "baseline" for all citizens, but doen't hold a monopoly. If you want to send a package faster, pay a little more and use UPS or a bike courier.

    Having a government agency run the show guarantees that everyone can at least send a package somehow. There's no "sorry, your neighborhood just isn't rich enough for us to lay fiber / put in a mail route" going on.

    Free markets don't always come to the socially optimal outcome, and they certainly can't be relied on to distribute resources equitably.

    Sure, it won't be free, but if we really care about this "digital divide" then this will bridge it a lot faster than waiting for Verizon.
    • The US Postal system is a good metaphor for people to see, in part because the US Postal system is self-sufficient.

      It's run as a governmental department, but it's supported entirely by the sale of its services, just as a municipal ISP might be.

      Concerns about spending city resources on this kind of thing ("Spend it on fire departments and street signs, not broadband networks!") seem less reasonable in that light, perhaps.



      • The postal service has not been anywhere near self sufficient in years, perhaps even decades. I believe it's current funding is well into the billions of dollars.

        Also, the postal service has a government mandated monopoly on basic letter services. It is illegal to send non-urgent mail through any other carrier than the post office. I believe the law defines urgent as something requiring a response in less than some number of days (don't remember the number).
      • "
        It's run as a governmental department, but it's supported entirely by the sale of its services, just as a municipal ISP might be. "

        Ignoring the fact that this isn't entirely true, we need to ask ourselves what could the government given these constraints that a private company could not. How could a "governmental department supported entirely by the sale of its services" operate more effectively than a private ISP?
        • You have to specify what you mean by "effectively". I hear people bitch and moan about the USPS, but I sure can't get a letter to from Pennsylvania to California cost-effectively without their service. Sure I can ask FedEx to do it for me, but I'll pay a lot more for speed I don't need.

          If by effectively you mean "at the lowest rate possible given their infrastructure, guaranteed -- with no shareholder pressures to act antisocially", then I can't imagine anyone moving mail more effectively in the US than the USPS.

          Take a look at the power market. In the Northwest, power is distributed by a federal agency, the Bonneville Power Administration. The Northwest has the least expensive power in the nation. This is a result of more than hydropower. As we all know, private or publicly held companies charge what the market will pay, which is obviously more than what people in the Pacific Northwest pay for power. Their rates are low because part of BPA's mission is to sell power at the lowest possible price, given their expenses. I expect the Postal Service has a similar clause in their mission. But just as the private power companies do not have such a clause, you can bet that FedEx, and more to point Verizon, don't have such a clause guiding their pricing decisions.

          If we ever lose BPA, it will be interesting to watch what happens to power prices in the Northwest. Imagine if Verizon had a monoply on electricity distribution; what do you think they would charge? The lowest possible price given their infrastructure, or the highest price the market would pay?

          I expect that municipal networks can be effective at providing bandwidth to everyone, and have the lowest price going. Among many positive benefits to such a system would be public access to the physical infrastructure, just like with the road. If you have the right credentials, you can fix existing roads or build new roads. You don't have to wait for the city to do it for you -- just hire a contractor. Specifications for a public network would (I really hope) necessarily be public.

          -Paul Komarek
          • First, the USPS has a Government-granted monopoly on letter-delivering, and they also loose money like a dot-com. Now, in the economics you mention you're talking about monopoly pricing. Under market conditions approaching perfect competition, a company's goal does effectively become providing their services at "the lowest possible price, given their expenses." If the network owner did have a monopoly (and it wouldn't necessarily have to) in some form, I would be in favor of enacting more restrictions on their operations, to prevent them from acting "antisocially." Otherwise, it should be up to the people to choose which company is best serving their community's needs.
    • Not that I'm saying this is necessarily bad, but it conflicts with what you said.

      The USPS has a legally mandated monopoly. It is illegal for anyone else to ship certain kinds of packages - and that helps keep USPS revenues up.

      What kinds of packages? Packages which do not require rapid delivery. If it isn't time associated, you can't mail it any other way. You're not _allowed_ to undercut USPS on first-class mail, for instance.

    • I wish it was as simple as "like another government service". You know, it wouldn't be described that way if the local government decided to get in the same field as you.


      For example, you run the local automobile dealership. The city doesn't think you are giving the "value" to the users. What do you do? Take tax dollars from everybody in town and subsidize the industry for lower rates. All of a sudden the government is in your pocket taking your money twice. Once for the taxes, the second for stealing your business.


      The second issue is that people seem to think high speed Internet is a right that should be nearly free. Does anyone realize what it costs to build these networks? Thats why in rural areas it takes longer as the investment and following ROI are a slow process. All the time people want 768k for 20 dollars a month. Hows that going to pay? Enter the mighty local government - we can take tax payer dollars and build this network to give all these services at that low rate. Once agian, tax dollars are floating this overall losing proposition. And if you don't use it, again you are paying twice.. .once in taxes, once the the other service provider.


      Lastly, once these networks are in, they become the giant beasts that can not be stopped. Since they are losing money, every legislator with a noble idea will try to get the muni-network into more lines of business. Constantly trying to self justify itself.


      Lastly again.... is cable TV really an essential service enough that the government has to step in? Get a freaking Satellite dish people...

      • The second issue is that people seem to think high speed Internet is a right that should be nearly free

        This is a really complicated issue. Is high speed internet a right...I dont think anyone is suggesting that. But in a future where more and more government services and commerse happen on-line. Having a garunteed internet connection to all US citizen's streamlines the system dramtically, becuase you could spend less on duplicate resources, to provide service through several competing communication channels.

        Right now high-speed internet access is really a toy. Yes I could stay at work longer and do everything I needed to do, but I pay for the luxury of being able to work at home. If however US citizens could be garunteed internet connectivity, then you can start imagining government agencies providing much better supported services over the net becuase they could focus on online services as a primary means of commication.

        -jef

    • The postal service *does* have a monopoly. If you don't believe me, try starting up a first-class mail delivery service. You'll find police at your door to shut you down.

      Notice that the USPS and FedEx do deliver to practically any place. You just have to pay more if you live in Alaska or Hawii. This is, it seems to me, as it should be-- if you choose to live in a place that's hard to deliver to, you pay the extra societal costs of getting mail. It's not like someone's going to go bankrupt from paying an extra 10 cents per letter for their mail.

      The post office should be privatised. All this would really require is to repeal the laws making it illegal to compete with it in first-class mail. Then, when the private sector kicks the USPS's ass and takes away most of its customers, the government can either disband it or turn it into a truly private company that would have some incentive to modernise.

      The problem with cable/DSL is that most cable and local phone companies are government-created monopolies. You generally have to get permission from the city council or county zoning board or whomever before you can lay cables. And not surprisingly, once one company has done it, they lobby hard to prevent any other company from laying competing lines. Result: monopoly.

      I'm not sure what the exact solution is, but this is certainly not a market failure. What's needed is more genuine competition, not a government takeover of the industry.

      Also, it seems to me that there are far more pressing societal problems than the lack of fast internet. I have it and love it, but I'm a middle-class yuppie college student. For your average American, having to dial in with a modem is an extremely minor annoyance. So there are more important things that governments should be doing, like plowing the streets and putting out fires. Let's get them to do a good job of that before we load them up with more responsibilities that rightly belong to the private sector, eh?
      • >The post office should be privatised. All this would really require is to repeal the laws making it illegal to compete with it in first-class mail.
        >Then, when the private sector kicks the USPS's ass and takes away most of its customers, the government can either disband it or turn it into a
        >truly private company that would have some incentive to modernise.

        Perhaps a noble thought. But what about when a privatized postal service decides that rural mail pickup and delivery is no longer profitable? The reason the Post Office's monopoly in certain areas is mandated is so that they can afford to give 100% coverage. Let all of the more profitable parts get stripped away, and the outlying service would get even more expensive, since it would turn into a bunch of disconnected isolated routes.

        As to why 100% coverage... The government *needs* some sort of secure communications channel with everyone, if only to take care of tax time in April. (By law the mail constitutes a secure channel, even if that may not be true in fact.)

        The free market is a wonderful invention. But just like to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, one must not start believing that the free market can be the solution to every problem.
      • The post office should be privatised. All this would really require is to repeal the laws making it illegal to compete with it in first-class mail.

        I agree completely. I would add only one caveat: If you want to compete with the USPS, then you truly have to compete with the USPS. You can't just compete with the local branch office; you must agree to provide the same basic services to the EXACT SAME CUSTOMER BASE as the USPS. you must deliver mail to Alaskan villages above the Arctic circle in the middle of winter. You must service rural customers in Wyoming who are miles away from each other. And don't forget, you must negotiate with ALL foreign governments to deliver mail from their citizens to ALL U.S. citizens.

        If someone will agree to do that, to provide all the letter-delivery services to all the people that the USPS services., then yes, they should be allowed to compete. Otherwise, all you're doing is providing more corporate welfare. There are parts of the USPS that are profitable; those parts (mostly) support the unprofitable parts. When most people propose competition with the USPS, what they're really talking about is permitting private corporations to take profitable business away from the USPS and stick taxpayers with the bill for the unprofitable parts.

        Applying this to the topic at hand (and it is applicable, assuming the U.S. government ever decides to guarantee an "IP dialtone" to all its citizens) is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • I am frankly a little afraid of this idea. I do not want government involved any more in my life then it needs to be, whether it be local, state, or federal. The type of government that provides services" to its people is called socialism. I like our democratic republic just fine and believe that if you do not like the way that private companies are acting, then you should work to change them. I know that leviathans like Verizon can see impossible to change, but they can be! First, if you want service in your area and know that upgrading is the problem but your area really wants the bandwidth, have every one right letters saying that you are willing to pay a little higher connection fees for the service for a few years after the service comes. Now obviously that does not sound like a fun plan, but it might work. If you think that you can do a better and/or cheaper job than the current provider, become a competitor. One thing that is true in the post is that competition will make the current system change. The problem with having government be the competitor is that they are not driven by profit so they can always under cut the competition. They also have an endless supply of cash to waste, yours!

    A question you must always ask yourself is: "Is this really an area where I feel comfortable having a group of ill-informed non-experts wasting my money?" Remember it was the government that created AT&T and it is government that will rebuild it again if we do not fight it!

    Have A Blessed Day and Pray for America.
  • Ashland Oregon has a population of about 20,000. The city was already in the utilities business with water and electricity when they decided to build the fiber network. While this probably won't make any money for the city its been great for the residents and local businesses. I've had a cable modem for almost a year now and its been very fast and reliable.
  • Having the government offer these services as a service to the community might not be the best thing.

    I am more in favour of a mutual versus a municipal service. Before you go and knock it, think that some of the biggest financial services firms began life as mutuals. This would really be a case of a service for the people.

    Should folk ever want to cash out eventually, they could demutualise the whole thing, and to be honest I would rather have one of these than have a politician tell me how he is 'doing' me good by providing this service. I would also be against either tax dollars subsiding such a venture, or conversely, profits from this being milked to fund other pork barrel projects.

    What local authorities should do, especially in places like the UK where BT frustrates the competition while providing really shite service, is to give groups that want to do this as much support as possible.

    That is the kind of stuff 'my local politician' should be doing for me.

  • You think it's already too easy to throw a Carnivore box in an ISP's infrastructure? Wait until the Government is asking ITSELF if it's OK that they tap connections.

    -Tom
  • I'm sittiing in my office in Stillwater, Oklahoma, a little college town of 40,000 residents, yet, while some may be connected via copper, I have 6 pair of fiber coming into the basement (2 are in use). Our city contracted with a small telco in Oklahoma, Chickasaw, to install a fiber ring in the city to connect the schools and municipal buildings to the Internet. After that was complete, chickasaw was free to sell access without the city's intervention. For a price that's too low to advertise, I have the equivalent of a full-duplex T-1 line. Our transciever gives us a 10mb connection to the central office where their router then packet shapes us down to the bandwidth we're paying for. Here's a ping from our router to our ISP over our fiber connection: *** Success rate is 100 percent, round-trip min/avg/max = 1/1/1 ms There's no way we would have this kind of connectivity without the city's help. I get to laugh as salespeople from Sprint, AT&T, etc. call and try to sell us ADSL or copper T-lines for more than we pay for our fiber connectivity. Not only do we have a fiber connection to our ISP, but we also ride fiber all the way to the Internet, so we get great throughput. Regards, Ben
  • Isn't this what the alberta supernet [gov.ab.ca] is about? Albeit, to government, and public facilities (and not to home... yet, although thats a viable future) - This being extended to the home I think is definately forseeable since while the Alberta government is footing a big chunk of the initial tab, its Bell Intrigna that will take it over - and the Alberta government has promised revenue streams to Bell for the next 10 yrs or so.
  • In my town, the city did just what the article mentions [ashlandfiber.net], and the result couldn't have been better. First of all, they forced Charter to bring down their rates to a more reasonable level. What the city is offering to residential customers is both television and data, outsourcing the data service through local ISPs. So, for twenty-five bucks a month, I get what often hits 5mbps download and a solid 1mbps upload. The local ISPs are making money (and keeping it local!), with the added benefit that Paul Allen is so pissed off at the local government that he wants to spit. (Some background: we hava a small but impressive Shakespeare Festival [orshakes.org], and guess which software vendor is a primary sponsor) Fsck Paul Allen, anyhow.

    My take is that as long as the work is properly planned, this is a good idea. And it is quite nice to be able to go to meetings at city hall to suggest changes in your cable TV lineup. Try doing that with charter :)
  • What ever happened to the idea that one day broadband was going to come to us across our power lines? Last I heard on it, things were working pretty well. The technology is there. The infrastructure is mostly there. The speed is high. The cost of implementation sounded like it would be low.

    Why would a local municipality push for this when the local power company can accomplish similar goals, seemingly with more ease? Maybe there's some underlying reason I don't know about, which is why it isn't here yet...

  • Both Bedford, VA and Muscatine Iowa pay my
    little company to help them run their networks.

    In Muscatine, the city IS the cable company,
    so they offer both dial-up and cablemodem
    service [machlink.com], and are the full-service ISP.

    Bedford VA [bedford.va.us] has fiber, and partners with the
    local cable company to offer services, where
    the fiber and the cablemodem systems are
    integrated into a semi-cohesive whole. This
    little project has been going on since 1995,
    making this effort one of the first.

    I'm sure that there are lots of towns and cities
    that have done similar things.

  • This is working great in rural eastern Washington. Here is a slashdot story about it [slashdot.org]

    I set up my father-in-law's office network and connected it to the ZIPP fiber network provided by the county public utility district. The connection speed is great, especially considering they are in the middle of nowhere. The connection is very comparable to my AT&T@home service, which I usually can get 400-500k/second downloads (from major sites, ofcourse).

    It is really cheap, too. No installation charge, no monthly fee from the PUD. You just pay the ISP of your choice their going fee. Most are between $20-$30 for residential. Most of the ISPs in the county don't even have restrictions on the number of PCs, etc.

    Over the same fiber you can get an awesome cable package with Video on Demand, for much cheaper than the local cable company (which offers less than 35 channels MAX). Telephone service as well. Check out more information at Grant County PUD ZIPP web page [gcpud.org]. I always get jealous. I am in Seattle and we have far worse connection options (it's down to Qwest DSL or AT&T@home).
  • I would like to see governments regulating the Broadband internet service a little more tightly, and maybe even the local govt. providing such access, but I would hate to move to the type of setup that electricity utilities have here in the Southeast, where each company is a government regulated monopoly. There is no competition, and since the govt. regulates what prices they can charge, the service is about as poor as can be. I wouldn't like this, however something needs to be done about a lot of phone companies who are providing broadband because they are doing the normal phone company thing: sticking it to the customers because at this time they are the only ones who can provide it. The following story will show my personal experience with this:

    When I first accepted my job here in Atlanta, GA (actually Lawrenceville, a suburb) I visited apartment complexes to determine where I would live. One of the most important factors in my decision was whether or not the apartments offered high speed internet access, of any kind. To my delight, the lady at one of the nicer complexes pulled out a brochure from BellSouth FastAccess about their DSL connections, and informed me that each apartment was "pre-wired for DSL with fiber phone lines!" The brochure had all of this great hype about how you didn't have to have a second phone line, etc, and showed the price of $45/month and a $50 connection fee, DSL modem included! As you can imagine, I was excited about such a nice connection to the net and so that along with the other amenities led me to the decision to live there. Well, when I actually moved in and started setting up my utilities, I was told that in order to get my DSL connection I would have to pay a $250 installation fee, even though the brochure said nothing about that. Well as you can imagine, as a computer literate person I argued that I could easily install whatever DSL modem they brought me and I could plug it into the wall and get my connection working, but they were adamant that I had to get a professional installation. I called about 10 times and spent about 12 hours total on the phone with different types of employees of Bellsouth, and all said that my apartment wasn't ready for DSL, that I needed the prof. installation. This didn't make any sense to me because when we learned about DSL in school we were told that DSL is just a protocol that comes over your 2 wire home phone line and "piggybacks" over the signal, not interrupting phone conversations, and this was not at all something that needed anything more than a phone line... Anyway, long story short, I finally gave in and the installer came to my house with "DSL modem" in hand. It turned out to be a 10/100 Ethernet NIC and the professional install was needed because he had to splice two lines together to make 1 ethernet cable that ran from the network hub in the complex to a phone outlet that I specified (limiting my mobility) where he installed a RJ-45 jack so I could plug my computer into the Ethernet Network. In my opinion I was lied to by not only the apartment complex (pre-wired) but also BellSouth (advertised DSL, installed ethernet.) It took them a month after doing the install to get the access working because apparently they didn't have the network routers in place to support my neighborhood, so after $300 and having billy bob come and install my "DSL" connection and tell me all about "that dad burn internet," I still had nothing. Eventually I did get access though, and it really is very fast and convenient, but it sure isn't the low cost DSL connection advertised.

    My point: phone companies are bastards like other utility companies, so I'd like to see the government step up regulation, but I'd hate it to become the same thing as the electricity market.
  • If you want things done right, you have to do it yourself.

    most city governments are run by people who are not blessed with guru level knowledge. Most are AOLers. They get confused easily.

    So if you have a larger group of geeks you can go in and take charge of this for the sake of the community. And of course, for your own benefit.

    there is not a lot of motivation otherwise. They have a lot of other issues on their plate. Small things like taxes, etc.

  • Wadsworth's Power and Cable division [wadsnet.com](NorthEast Ohio) has been providing cable modem service for over 2 years. Not only have provided affordable cable and data service to residents, the have forced their monoply provider to do the same. Many cities use the Wadsworth Cable System as a model for their own implementations.


    Municipal systems can be bad or good based on the quality of the staff implementing. A good municipal system is a resource that adds value to the community the same as good schools and smooth roads. The promise of quality, affordable service is an excellent economic development tool.


    On a personal note, my mother was on the beta rollout for the system. After two modems and new wiring, she has one of the stablest net connections I have ever seen.

  • Coming from a Municipal background this is a really bad thing. Many local government officials are power-greedy idiots. (although every person in government is pretty much an idiot or thief) The last city council here wanted to outlaw saying anything "bad" about the council members. one councilwoman was quoted as "Free speech is dangerous, and we need to outlaw it".

    It is exactly these types of self serving morons that get elected every day. Now give them control of something as complex as a data network?? They cant manage something as simple as Roads,water, ans sewer! You will not attract employees that are skilled to take care of it. (Working for the City really sucks if you are a foreward thinker and espically if you think out of the box.)

    Nope, asking for a public network is like asking a thief to watch your wallet... You'll get your wallet, but all the content will be gone.
  • Okay here was the idea I had 8 years ago and couldn't get funding for... I was going to start a business that started businesses. It would work like this. I would scour the country for smallish towns (places like eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and the like are ideal) I worked the numbers and to make it resonable you want the towns to be around 10,000 people. I would step in to said towns and create an ISP business for them. It would work like so, I hire some local highschool kids, we trench cat-5 up to every house in the area, and we build a town W/LAN. In the process we would hook up a T3 to the local library, city building, or highschool which would be shared by all the residents via the LAN. The city would create a business to maintain said network (I was figuring that some teachers or librarians in the area could take that on) I would train the people to run the show. Then it would be up to the city how to pay that business, sales tax, $20-50 a month tax, something like that; my prejections where that with fairly reasonable fees the city could even cut a profit on this. I would charge a nominal fee for installation and then my business would be the network experts who step in and fix problems when they are beyond the scope of the new city ISP. The thinking was that there are going to be a lot of smallish towns where broadband is going to be hard to get. I was also thinking that there could be lot's of tie-ins with things like online voting for city elections, free web sites for local businesses, etc.. The idea wasn't without some flaws, notably the training of the personel to run the network and then with bandwidth demands you'd need something far larger than a couple T1s or a T3 which make the idea of an ISP business a little impractical (note the crash in the ISP market and all the consolidation) unless you're a bandwidth provider.


    Oh well, at least they are doing it now somewhere.

  • I saw a post [slashdot.org] a while back with an idea that I loved: have the infrastructure be built publically, but let ISPs compete to administer and provide services over the network. Not as in "bid and we'll create a contract and let you be the only business to do this and pay you" but as in "Hey, wanna provide services to people in our area? We'll rent you rights to provide it over our broadband network".

    This could work with other utilities, too... it'd be cool if we had a public power grid but could choose from several electric companies. Or if none of the telcos actually owned the phone network, but all had to vie within the same public network to provide the best services. We'd have truer competition, and presumably better service..... (maybe).
  • by Tappah ( 224124 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @11:43AM (#2319917)

    Having read many of the posts here, I find a great deal of mis-information being bandied about, as well as a general lack of understanding as to the current situation involving Muni nets.

    First, the RCOC's (Regional Bell Operating Companies) have lobbied furiously against the creation of these networks. Cable has lobbied too, but cable companies have very little influence in statehouses and capital hill, as compared to the RBOCs, which weild enormous lobbying power, especially at the state level. As a result of this all-out lobbying effort, many states flatly prohibit municipalities from building any sort of network which will compete in any way against an RBOC.

    Cities have fought back, however. Many towns, where broadband or even basic cable television service are sorely lacking or nonexistent, want to build these networks. There are several lawsuits right now seeking to overturn restrictive state laws by citing a provision in the Telecom Act of 96 which provides that no state may enact law which prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting the ability of "any entity" from providing telecom service. The FCC, ever beholden to the RBOCs, ruled originally that "any entity" did not include municipal governments, as a sop to telcos who feared taxpayers might just say "screw this, lets build our own". However, there are strong signs that a federal appelate court will overrule the FCC, and force states to allow muni's to start building nets, if taxpayers (us) vote to do so.

    The fundamental question is: do we have the right to decide to provide our own?

    Municipal governments provide 90% of direct government benefits, to most citizens. The provide streets, street signs, trash pickup, water service, maintain zoning standards, handle legalities like deeds and property matters, and intercede on behalf of citizens in a great many matters. It is an incontrovertible fact, that municipal governments are the best, most effective, and most efficient segment of our democratic system of government here in the US.

    Even so, very few people bother to take notice of what your local city government is doing (which no doubt contributes to their efficiency).

    I've seen several people here state, that City Governments have no experience with IT, are clueless, incapable, etc. This is flatly false.

    City governments are no different than any other large company these days, and all of them larger than about 30,000 population have IT departments. The people that work in those departments often face daunting challenges, as the perils of the annual budget year cycle, and requirements for "low bid" purchases, force them to try and operate non-homogenous networks. They don't have the luxury of saying "100% company X" on anything. IT people that can keep networks like that running, must have skillsets that span very wide areas of knowledge.

    And what the RBOCs fear most: Muni's have experienced and expert people in the tough areas of network operation already in place. Consider this: Munis regulate every inch of right-of-way in the "last mile", because they own it. Their people are more familiar with it than anyone, anywhere. Munis also have experts on telco regulation on staff, to deal with franchise agreements, rate regulation, etc. Muni's have contruction inspectors, log-standing relationships with Contractors, and experience in utility location/colocation. And Muni's have strong IT staff, as a rule.

    There's one last thing to consider. Are you pissed at the service you recieve from your telco or cable company? Whatyougonnadoaboutit? Answer: not much you can do.

    But consider - if your local goverment were your provider, what could you do then? Vote. Run for City Council. Local politics is personal folks - and unlike national politics, your personal problems are likely shared by your next-door neighbor. You as an individual can easily effect the outcome of a City Council election. Think on that, as you consider whether you're likely to get better service from a Muni telco.

    • FCC == Access

      Access == Accumulate Copyright IP

      Acumulate Copyright IP == Wealth.

      99%,1% vs 1%,99% Wealth == Just plain EVIL(tm)

      Therfore...

      FCC == Just plain EVIL(tm)


      Time to elect FCC officals directly.


      There goes any shot for an amature radio licence. ;)


      Can't run local municipal Internet access my ass.

  • This is valid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2001 @12:56PM (#2320417)
    I'm usually against the government getting involved in just about anything, because they do tend to screw things up a lot. But the things that I consider valid for the government are basic things that:
    A) everyone needs
    B)for which there can be little to no market distinction
    C)has a costly infrastructure associated with it

    One such case is vaccinations. A vaccine will either work or it won't, and every child has to have them before they begin school. Company A's brand will really differ very little from Company B's, and I'd hate to see what kind of disgusting commercials companies would produce to try to distinquish thier product from a competitors. ("See twisted knarled Eddy? He used the wrong Streptomiacin vaccine!)

    Another good case is school systems.

    I see internet service as being the same. Everybody needs or will soon need a connection if they want to exist normally in a developed nation. One pipe is nearly identical to the next, and it is starting to get ridiculous to have a twisted pair in the ground next to a coax cable next to a fiber optic line while there is a satellite dish on the house next door and a wireless transmitter on a tower down the street. A simple connection (as opposed to the things that the broadband services currently want to provide--they want to sell you 'services', ie. baggage you don't need) is not difficult to provide and puts everyone at a level playing field.

    In my view, government run internet equates to government run roads. It's too expensive for everyone to build and manage their own.

  • Government should do things which can't be done by private enterprise, but which would be welfare-enhancing if done (that's a relatively restrictive criterion, compared to what is actually used today to determine what gov't should do).

    Given that we accept that proposition, it might make sense for gov't to build communications infrastructure, which we have seen that private capital is doing slowly, if at all.

    If they do this, I think tht they should then make the infrastructure available to any private outfit which wants to run an isp/telco. Ideally, it should be rented to several, which citizens could choose between.

    Notice that the reason that we aren't seeing broadband made available seems to be as much due to regulatory difficulties as to high costs. The telcos have their network and monopoly as artifacts of the current and past regulatory environment. They can use this to chop the legs off of anyone who tries to compete using the telco system, and no-one can afford to build their own system when the telcos have an existing system which is at least partially amortized.

    So, having started to ``manage'' our economy, we need more government intervention to ``fix'' the problems we caused.

  • why shouldn't municipalities take it upon themselves to deliver service for their constituents?

    Because the government (in America) is not in the utility or telecom business. Show me where, in the Constitution, it says that local tax dollars should be spent on any of this?
    • Theoretically, the Constitution only applies to Federal entities. Practically, speaking that's not always true, but doesn't push the argument in your favor.

      More specifically, powers not explicity granted to Congress are reserved for the states (10th amendment). And municipalities (cities, counties) are generally charted by the state. Any limits I would imagine would strictly be in the interpritation of the state constitutions and the municipal charters.

      Also, the feds have a long history of acting on stuff like this. AT&T had a federally authorized monopoly for decades. Finally, municipalities have a long history of operating utilities. Water, trash collection and electricity distribution are three examples. I fail to see why this would be much different.
    • Show me where, in the Constitution, it says that local folks can't decide to spend their local tax dollars on this if they want to!

      It's our money and to a damned large degree we should have the freedom to spend it however we want.

      If we-the-taxpayers choose not to - by voting down a
      proposed bond or tax - then fine. If we choose to, then what they hell's your beef?
  • Cedar Falls, IA, has had municipal utilities for water, sewage, waste-disposal, electricity, and natural gas since the 1920s. In the mid-80's is was brought to their attention that information might well qualify as a utility.

    In a bond election for $5 million of bonds to create cable and broadband services, the current cable provider put up a very large fight - and lost. The citizens voted at an over 85% rate to create broadband/internet/cable as a utility.


    The results can be seen at http://www.cfu.net/index.shtml . I get most of my mail from Cedar Falls with addresses ending @cfu.net.

    My parents, in their 70's are happy to send and receive multimedia presentations, and to create web pages and mailing lists. They get no static about running Mac OS and other non win items.


    I would be happy to switch to a municipal system here - that way there would be some public servant I could shake down when things are going poorly.


    (My father-in-law, also in his 70's, ran into the street to beg the competing cable firm to wire him up. Customer satisfaction at its nadir.)

  • Why shouldn't local governments solve the problem? Yes, they should! Oh, local governments CAUSED the problem. Oops.

    Let's review why your RBOC has a monopoly. It is the only one that can connect twisted pair to your home. It has the right of way, the only right of way in most cases to connect. AT&T is trying to break that monopoly with coaxial cable connections, but with at best limited success.

    Your local government could just allow a private company to bypass your RBOC and go ahead and do it instead. Or more than one.

    Local government created the monopoly. Then it presented itself as the only solution to the monopoly it created and allows. Then, it tries to skim its own cream by pricing itself not at a market price and providing market services, but parasitically pricing itself very near the monopoly cost.

    Gee how generous.

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