Muni Fiber and Politics

Owen DeLong owen at
Mon Jul 21 20:34:58 UTC 2014

On Jul 21, 2014, at 11:38 , William Herrin <bill at> wrote:

> On Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 10:20 AM, Jay Ashworth <jra at> wrote:
>> Over the last decade, 19 states have made it illegal for municipalities
>> to own fiber networks
> Hi Jay,
> Everything government does, it does badly. Without exception. There
> are many things government does better than any private organization
> is likely to sustain, but even those things it does slowly and at an
> exorbitant price.

Actually, in all of the places that have Muni fiber, things seem to be much
better for consumers than where it does not exist. Of the people I've talked
to (admittedly not a statistically valid sample), I've heard no reports of slow
installations, problematic situations, or bad service anywhere near the levels
offered by the various commercial broadband providers.

> Muni fiber is a competition killer. You can't beat city hall; once
> built it's not practical to compete, even with better service, so
> residents are stuck with only the overpriced (either directly or via
> taxes), usually underpowered and always one-size-fits-all network
> access which results. As an ISP I watched something similar happen in
> Altoona PA a decade and a half ago. It was a travesty.

Whoever installs fiber first and gets any significant fraction of subscribers in any
but the densest of population centers is a competition killer, _IF_ you let them
parlay that physical infrastructure into an anti-competitive environment for higher
layer services.

OTOH, if we prohibit layer one facilities based operators from being service
providers, you create an environment well suited to rich competition for the
higher layer services while providing an opportunity for higher-layer service
operators to increase accountability among the physical facilities operator.

I'm not saying we grant legal monopolies to layer one providers or mandate
that they be run by municipalities. I am saying that we should not prohibit
municipalities from operating fiber systems, but, instead, we should prohibit
anyone installing new facilities from also selling services over those facilities.
Instead, facilities operators should be required to lease those physical plant
elements to any service providers on an equal footing on a first-come-first
serve basis.

If a layer one provider does a bad enough job, the service providers can create
demand for an alternative layer one provider much more easily than consumers.

> The only exception I see to this would be if localities were
> constrained to providing point to point and point to multipoint
> communications infrastructure within the locality on a reasonable and
> non-discriminatory basis. The competition that would foster on the

Yes... This is absolutely the right answer, but they should only be able to provide
physical link, not higher layer services.

> services side might outweigh the damage on the infrastructure side.
> Like public roads facilitate efficient transportation and freight
> despite the cost and potholes, though that's an imperfect simile.

I will point out that in my experience, private roads do not tend to be as well
maintained overall as public roads with some notable exceptions in very wealthy
gated communities.


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