Muni Fiber and Politics

Ray Soucy rps at
Tue Jul 22 18:13:19 UTC 2014

IMHO the way to go here is to have the physical fiber plant separate.

FTTH is a big investment.  Easy for a municipality to absorb, but not
attractive for a commercial ISP to do.  A business will want to
realize an ROI much faster than the life of the fiber plant, and will
need assurance of having a monopoly and dense deployment to achieve
that.  None of those conditions apply in the majority of the US, so
we're stuck with really old infrastructure delivering really slow

Municipal FTTH needs to be a regulated public utility (ideally at a
state or regional level).  It should have an open access policy at
published rates and be forbidden from offering lit service on the
fiber (conflict of interest).  This covers the fiber box in the house
to the communications hut to patch in equipment.

Think of it like the power company and the separation between
generation and transmission.

That's Step #1.

Step #2 is finding an ISP to make use of the fiber.

Having a single municipal ISP is not really what I think is needed.

Having the infrastructure in place to eliminate the huge investment
needed for an ISP to service a community is.  Hopefully, enough people
jump at the idea and offer service over the fiber, but if they don't,
you need to get creative.

The important thing is that the fiber stays open.  I'm not a fan of
having a town or city be an ISP because I know how the budgets work.
I trust a town to make sure my fiber is passing light; I don't trust
it to make sure I have the latest and greatest equipment to light the
fiber, or bandwidth from the best sources.  I certainly don't trust
the town to allow competition if it's providing its own service.

This is were the line really needs to be drawn IMHO.  Municipal FTTH
is about layer 1, not layer 2 or layer 3.

That said, there are communities where just having the fiber plant
won't be enough.  In these situations, the municipality can do things
like create an incentive program to guarantee a minimum income for an
ISP to reach the community which get's trimmed back as the ISP gains

I don't think a public option is bad on the ISP side of things; as
long as the fiber is open and people can choose which ISP they want.
The public option might be necessary for very rural communities that
can't get service elsewhere or to simply serve as a price-check, but
most of us here know that a small community likely won't be able to
find the staff to run its own ISP, either.

TL;DR Municipal FTTH should be about fixing the infrastructure issues
and promoting innovation and competition, not creating a
government-run ISP to oust anyone from the market.

Think about it: If you're an ISP, and you can lease fiber and
equipment space (proper hut, secured, with backup power and cooling
etc) for a subsidized rate; for cheaper than anything you could afford
to build out; how much arm twisting would it take for you to invest in
installing a switch or two to deliver service?  If you're a smaller
ISP, you were likely already doing this in working with telephone
companies in the past (until they started trying to oust you).

On Tue, Jul 22, 2014 at 11:27 AM, Aaron <aaron at> wrote:
> So let me throw out a purely hypothetical scenario to the collective:
> What do you think the consequences to a municipality would be if they laid
> fiber to every house in the city and gave away internet access for free?
> Not the WiFi builds we have today but FTTH at gigabit speeds for free?
> Do you think the LECs would come unglued?
> Aaron
> On 7/21/2014 8:33 PM, Miles Fidelman wrote:
>> I've seen various communities attempt to hand out free wifi - usually in
>> limited areas, but in some cases community-wide (Brookline, MA comes to
>> mind).  The limited ones (e.g., in tourist hotspots) have been city funded,
>> or donated.  The community-wide ones, that I've seen, have been
>> public-private partnerships - the City provides space on light poles and
>> such - the private firm provides limited access, in hopes of selling
>> expanded service.  I haven't seen it work successfully - 4G cell service
>> beats the heck out of WiFi as a metropolitan area service.
>> When it comes to municipal fiber and triple-play projects, I've generally
>> seen them capitalized with revenue bonds -- hence, a need for revenue to pay
>> of the financing.  Lower cost than commercial services because municipal
>> bonds are low-interest, long-term, and they operate on a cost-recovery
>> basis.
>> Miles Fidelman
>> Aaron wrote:
>>> Do you have an example of a municipality that gives free internet access
>>> to it's residents?
>>> On 7/21/2014 2:26 PM, Matthew Kaufman wrote:
>>>> I think the difference is when the municipality starts throwing in free
>>>> or highly subsidized layer 3 connectivity "free with every layer 1
>>>> connection"
>>>> Matthew Kaufman
>>>> (Sent from my iPhone)
>>>>> On Jul 21, 2014, at 12:08 PM, Blake Dunlap <ikiris at> wrote:
>>>>> My power is pretty much always on, my water is pretty much always on
>>>>> and safe, my sewer system works, etc etc...
>>>>> Why is layer 1 internet magically different from every other utility?
>>>>> -Blake
>>>>>> On Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 1:38 PM, 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.
>>>>>> 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.
>>>>>> 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
>>>>>> 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.
>>>>>> Regards,
>>>>>> Bill Herrin
>>>>>> --
>>>>>> William Herrin ................ herrin at bill at
>>>>>> Owner, Dirtside Systems ......... Web: <>
>>>>>> Can I solve your unusual networking challenges?
> --
> ================================================================
> Aaron Wendel
> Chief Technical Officer
> Wholesale Internet, Inc. (AS 32097)
> (816)550-9030
> ================================================================

Ray Patrick Soucy
Network Engineer
University of Maine System

T: 207-561-3526
F: 207-561-3531

MaineREN, Maine's Research and Education Network

More information about the NANOG mailing list