Sunday, July 17, 2011


Community Networks or Council Broadband ?

Recently I've been looking at US implementations of "community networks" after our local "fibre or bust" proponents were tweeting links to them.

Some of them didn't look like community networks, at least not by my personal understanding of the term. Perhaps we need a more granular taxonomy than defining everything that isn't owned by a large corporate as "community".

An article in the Huffington Post from an advocate of community networks puts forward a campaigning stance that "community networks" are at a disadvantage compared to the one or two large corporate providers present in a typical US locality (cable provider and DSL from incumbent telco). The network in question is a municipal network "Salisbury Fibrant"which offers triple play services over Fibre to the Home in Salisbury, North Carolina in competition with 7, 10 or 15M Time Warner Cable and 6M DSL from AT&T.

I call this a "municipal network" because it is financed, owned and operated as part of the local government, with some controversy as one would expect in the freedom loving and capitalist USA. In essence it's offering a 15M/15M symmetrical FTTH service at $45/month with $20/month increments to 25, 50, 75 or 100M so the 100M service is $125 per month taken on its own. There are a wide array of TV and phone bundles too. The DSL and Cable competition do look poor and appear to have dropped prices in response to Fibrant's arrival.

Those opposed to the Salisbury Fibrant project point to low takeup, high retail prices, mounting debts and increased taxes and local utility fees to pay for Fibrant. It's hard to judge the truth of the matter from this distance, but time will tell.

In nearby Wilson, NC the Greenlight municipal FTTH network has disconnected 1,000 customers who never paid a bill - an alarming figure relative to their 5,000 or so subscribers.
In the State of Vermont the city owned Burlington Telecom got into financial problems when the takeup rate for its fiber system didn't meet requirements and losses mounted. So all is not well in the world of council broadband.

In case anyone runs away with the idea that things would be different in the UK, take a look at Swindon's controversial municipal Wi-Fi project "Get Signal" provided by Digital City.

I'm sure there are proper community projects in the USA that are not council broadband, and look forward to reading about them. All links and hints gratefully received.

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