The growth of municipal broadband networks

George Bonser gbonser at
Fri Mar 25 21:52:22 CDT 2011

> It is only in very recent times that we have been able to overlay
> Internet on both cable and television, and to have television
> competition via satellite.

In "the old days" the phone company didn't provide "content".  You
called someone and the people at each end provided the content or the
data going over the network.  The phone company simply provided the
network.  I still believe the biggest mistake we made was breaking up
the Bell System.  We should have let them be, regulated the crap out of
them, and then said "no, you can't get into the business of providing
content".  They system should have been left as a regulated public

> To that end, I think the US would be much better off with fiber to the
> home on a single distribution infrastructure.  That could be owned and
> operated by the municipality (like the water system) or owned and
> operated by a corporation granted an exclusive right to service an
> (think telephone, at least pre CLEC).

Yup, bring back "The Bell System".

> Where you immediately run into a snag is the next layer up.  Should
> government provide IP services, if the fiber is government owned?
> Should private companies be required to offer competitors access to
> provide IP services if the fiber is privately owned?

I would say they provide network access only, not content.  They would
be kept out of providing content and kept in the business of reliably
connecting content to consumer.  That would be their focus.

> Having looked around the world I personally believe most communities
> would be best served if the government provided layer-1 distribution,
> possibly with some layer 2 switching, but then allowed any commercial
> entity to come in and offer layer 3 services.  

I don't.  What happens when the "government" then decides what content
is and is not allowed to go over their network?  If one had a site that
provided a view that the government didn't like, would they cut it off?
I want the government very strictly limited in what they can and cannot
do and I want them to have to go to an outside entity for things like
lawful intercept because it is another check on their power.  A private
entity might insist that there is a proper warrant or subpoena while the
government might simply decide to snoop first, get the paperwork later.
Keeping the network at arm's length from the government helps to make
sure there is another entity in the loop. 

> For simplicity of
> argument I like people to envision the local government fiber agency
> (like your water authority) dropping off a 1 port fiber 4 port copper
> switch in your basement. 

Big difference.  Water is not a good analogy.  The "content" in that
case is from a central source and everyone gets the same thing.  With
the network, you have people communicating back and forth and much of
that communications is private or expected to be private (say, a phone
call or a secure financial transaction).  If a private entity screws up,
it is much easier to fine them or fire the person responsible than it is
to punish a government department or fire a government worker.  Besides,
we really don't need yet more people on the government payroll.

Though I do agree that it is a natural monopoly.  It should be managed
by a regulated utility that is explicitly prohibited from providing the
content, only provide access through the network.

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