Local governments do not favor themselves on taxes or right of ways or otherwise compete unfairly with incumbent telecommunications and incumbent cable companies. To the contrary, private incumbents enjoy a wealth of state and federal subsidies, guaranteed rates of return, regulated rates for pole attachments, etc. In addition, local telephone companies enjoyed years of regulated monopoly status to build positions of dominance they continue to enjoy. To pretend that these local incumbents, with their subsidies and regulated access, need to “level the playing field” to protect a “free market” against local government systems flies in the face of reality.
University of Louisiana on Lafayette Network
Joe Abraham, from the University of Louisiana, recently addressed the LUS Fiber network in Lafayette. This is possibly the fastest and most affordable network in the entire country. Apparently, Joe has been asked by friends if they should switch to the new municipally owned network. His answer is an unequivocal yes - backed up by several points like it is a faster, cheaper service that strengthens the whole community. But really, I like this point:
Inherent in democracy, in the First Amendment, and in free markets, is a central concept: we have no idea what these things will produce. We only know that they are the means-- they are the how-- to produce an endless supply of very important & valuable things. The Internet has proven to be the same, it produces a continuous stream of innovative, valuable things. It should be obvious that building the most advanced community Intranet will attract a lot of innovative people to our city, and encourage our own people to be innovative, as well.
To the extent we require these networks to produce profits, they will not be the "how" of the new economy. Infrastructure rarely pays for itself directly, but pays for itself many times over indirectly.
He also has a response to those who fear the public should not compete with the private:
But what if, instead of public vs. private fiberoptic lines early in the 21st century, you find yourself in the early 18th century, and the question is building state-owned roads and bridges that will decrease the profitability of privately-held services?
What if you live in the early 19th century, and the question is building public libraries that will compete with for-profit bookstores?
What if it is the early 20th century, and the question is creating public schools that will pull students from private institutions?
Well done, Joe!
Another article from the same paper interviews Director of Utilities for Lafayette, Terry Huval. This is a guy that understands the value of publicly owned fiber networks:
In addition, we will launch a digital divide product that will provide Internet accessibility in homes where there are no computers, and no Internet services today.
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to come, and much of those are things that I don't even envision myself. If we go back to the early days of electricity in the 1890s, I'm convinced that Thomas Edison never envisioned the microwave oven or the TV-- much less the computer. This fiber capability, this infrastructure, is in its infancy and that's why Lafayette is going to be on the front edge of that development.
The article finishes by noting his mean fiddle - and I have heard from many people that his fiddle skills are quite impressive. I hope I get to see if firsthand when I head down there in April.