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Overview

Wireless and wired technologies allow municipalities to offer a means to bridge the digital divide. Communities are now building their own wired and/or wireless “Community Internet” systems, using fiber optic cables or unlicensed space on the public airways to provide dependable high-speed Internet connections to homes all across America.

Municipalities seeking to provide affordable high-speed Internet to their residents have had to deal with special interest legislation at the state level designed to shut down municipal networks. In an effort to stifle competition and protect their profits, service providers are pushing bills in state legislatures that would prohibit communities from setting up high-speed Internet networks, prevent competition and undercut local control--even in rural and low-income areas not currently served by large providers. More than a dozen states now have laws on the books restricting cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks.

New technology is making it possible for cities and towns to improve access to information, provide education and job training, enhance public safety, foster technological innovation, and bolster local economic development. State laws should protect, not block, the development of municipal systems, public private partnerships, and other alternatives that promise to bring the benefits of high-speed Internet to more people.

  • In Vermont the state legislature adopted Public Act 79, which, among other things, granted towns and cities the right to deploy their own high-speed Internet infrastructure. The legislation supports such measures both by a blanket approval of cities and towns to deploy broadband infrastructure and by granting access to the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank to help with these projects. Twenty-three towns have already banded together to build the East Central Vermont Community Fiber Network that will connect under-served homes and businesses.
  • Under the terms of Minneapolis, Minnesota wireless project, which many consider the most successful municipal high-speed Internet program to date, the city is functioning as an "anchor tenant", paying $1.25 million a year for the city's own use of the network. Since the city agreed to be the “anchor tenant,” U.S. Internet built the high-speed network with no public financing. Additionally, U.S. Internet is providing a comprehensive set of community benefits that surpass negotiations by other cities in the country, including a $500,000 payment to create a “digital inclusion fund” that will be used to promote affordable Internet access, low-cost hardware, local content and training. In addition, U.S. Internet will direct a minimum of five percent of the network’s net profits to a digital inclusion fund for ongoing digital inclusion efforts.

Resources:
Free Press - Community Internet Background
Institute for Local Self-Reliance - Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber-Optic Options
Minneapolis Wireless Project

Common Cause - Community Broadband
Digital Access