Broadband access is increasingly critical infrastructure for every community, a critical element for government efficiency and responsiveness, economic development, education, public safety, healthcare and the conduct of peoples’ personal lives. What can a rural community or small city do if the dominant broadband providers aren’t in any hurry to build broadband infrastructure?
The Center for Innovative Technology has just published a manual, “Improving Broadband Access and Utilization in Virginia,” that lays out a roadmap and highlights examples of how several communities have taken matters into their own hands.
The most prominent is the City of Bristol in Virginia’s far southwest, which deployed its own fiber-to-the-premises in 2001, reaching 6,000 customers within the first two years. Bristol Virginia Utilities was the first municipality in the country to build a fiber network to deliver the triple play of phone, Internet and cable television. Though not as far along, the City of Danville built a fiber system connecting 120 local government and school buildings, and then expanded it to serve more than 100 businesses and, more recently, residential customers.
Other models include rural co-ops, like the one in Floyd County, and public-private partnerships, as seen in Franklin County and King and Queen County. The report suggests that communities begin with a citizen survey to identify unmet needs, form a stakeholder group that can aggregate demand and hold discussions with Internet Service Providers.
As an aside, the Tobacco Commission, much criticized on this blog (by me among others), helped fund a number of these initiatives. Accelerating the deployment of broadband infrastructure in under-served areas is one of the most worthwhile investments the Commission could make. Unlike a foot-loose manufacturing plant that comes then leaves ten years later, fiber-optic cable doesn’t pick up and move away.
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