Indeed, many municipal broadband projects are undertaken because the Wall Street metric does not work. The town may be too remote, the population may be too sparse, or the demographic nature may not be consistent with the template used by private sector companies in their profit-maximizing decisions on where and whether to deploy. Those are precisely the circumstances, however, in which the community benefits of providing broadband become most profound, and most valuable.
Colorado's Least Populous County Wires Itself
Ran across this interesting story out of Silverton, Colorado - where Qwest has refused to provide a reliable telecommunications connection to the least populous county in Colorado. Recall that Qwest's refusal to offer redundancy in Minnesota's most rural County led to a total communications blackout for twelve hours, shutting down public safety and businesses alike.
Silverton is the only town in rural San Juan County. The City is splitting the costs ($121K) of a new publicly owned fiber-optic loop with the County and apparently the State is offering a grant for the balance. As we emphasize time and time again, cities that move from leasing multiple lines from the incumbent to owning their network radically increase available speeds while cutting costs. Silverton estimates it will save 50% or more in its telecom expenditures. These savings will pile up over time because owning the network typically leads to decreasing costs over time whereas leasing lines offers much less control over future telecom budgets.
But perhaps the more interesting aspect of this story is that San Juan County is the only County in the state not connected with fiber-optic lines. Qwest has:
a 10-year, $37 million contract to provide high-speed connectivity to every county seat in Colorado, forming a statewide network known as the Multi-use Network, or MNT.
To save money, Qwest is using a microwave (wireless) connection for San Juan County, which is far less reliable than would be a fiber-optic connection. For such a rural area, microwave might be a good secondary connection, offering a backup in the case of a fiber cut or natural disaster. However, making that the primary connection is what happens when Qwest is calling the shots.
Qwest is not looking out for the interests of first responders, residents, or businesses in Silverton, it is looking for "a compelling business case" in their own words. And this is exactly why Qwest should not be in charge of essential infrastructure.