Muni network ownership and the Fourth

Leo Bicknell bicknell at
Tue Jan 29 17:05:00 UTC 2013

In a message written on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 10:59:31AM -0500, Jay Ashworth wrote:
> Regular readers know that I'm really big on municipally owned fiber networks
> (at layer 1 or 2)... but I'm also a big constitutionalist (on the first, 
> second, fourth, and fifth, particularly), and this is the first really good
> counter-argument I've seen, and it honestly hadn't occurred to me.
> Rob, anyone, does anyone know if any 4th amendment case law exists on muni-
> owned networks?

I don't, but I'd like to point out here that I've long believed
both sides of the muni-network argument are right, and that we the
people are losing the baby with the bath water.

I am a big proponent of muni-owned dark fiber networks.  I want to
be 100% clear about what I advocate here:

  - Muni-owned MMR space, fiber only, no active equipment allowed.  A
    big cross connect room, where the muni-fiber ends and providers are
    all allowed to colocate their fiber term on non-discriminatory terms.

    Large munis will need more than one, no run from a particular MMR
    to a home should exceed 9km, allowing the providers to be within
    1km of the MMR and still use 10km optics.

  - 4-6 strands per home, home run back to the muni-owned MMR space.
    No splitters, WDM, etc, home run glass.  Terminating on an optical
    handoff inside the home.

  - Fiber leased per month, per pair, on a cost recovery basis (to
    include an estimate of O&M over time), same price to all players.

I do NOT advocate that munis ever run anything on top of the fiber.
No IP, no TV, no telephone, not even teleporters in the future.
Service Providers of all types can drop a large count fiber from
their POP to the muni-owned MMR, request individual customers be
connected, and then provide them with any sort of service they like
over that fiber pair, single play, double play, triple play, whatever.

See, the Comcast's and AT&T of the world are right that governments
shouldn't be ISP's, that should be left to the private sector.  I
want a choice of ISP's offering different services, not a single
monopoly.  In this case the technology can provide that, so it
should be available.

At the same time, it is very ineffecient to require each provider
to build to every house.  Not only is it a large capital cost and
barrier to entry of new players, but no one wants roads and yards
dug up over and over again.  Reducing down to one player building
the physical in the ground part saves money and saves disruption.

Regarding your 4th amendment concerns, almost all the data the
government wants is with the Service Provider in my model, same as
today.  They can't find out who you called last week without going
to the CDR or having a tap on every like 24x7 which is not cost
effective.  Could a muni still optically tap a fiber in this case
and suck off all the data?  Sure, and I have no doubt some paranoid
service provider will offer to encrypt everything at the transport

Is it perfect?  No.  However I think if we could adopt this model
capital costs would come down (munis can finance fiber on low rate, long
term muni-bonds, unlike corporations, plus they only build one network,
not N), and competition would come up (small service providers can
reach customers only by building to the MMR space, not individual homes)
which would be a huge win win for consumers.

Maybe that's why the big players want to throw the baby out with the
bath water. :P

       Leo Bicknell - bicknell at - CCIE 3440
        PGP keys at
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