Government Technology, March 5, 2013
About 340 communities nationwide offer publicly-owned fiber-optic or cable networks, according to a new map from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. But as one expert told The Atlantic Cities, there are few big cities on the map.
The largest city-owned broadband network serves about 170,000 households in Chattanooga, Tenn., with Lafayette, La., coming in second, serving 120,000 residents.
According to Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative, the most interesting differences on the map are between Knoxville and Chattanooga or between Chattanooga and cities much larger than it. The issue, he told The Atlantic Cities, is that small business owners in places like Knoxville complain about slow Internet speeds and the high cost of doing business outside of Chattanooga — and cities with networks like the one Chattanooga built will inevitably lure jobs.
And this is the reason that some larger areas are now starting to think about muni broadband. “Seattle and Chicago are looking around and basically saying, ‘If we’re the last ones to get really high-quality access to the internet, then we’re really going to be screwed,'” Mitchell told the publication.
But why aren’t these larger big cities already deploying municipal broadband? “I feel like big cities have this arrogance,” Mitchell says. “They thought, ‘We’re so great, we are so cosmopolitan.’ They never thought they’d have to worry about competing with Chattanooga over jobs.”
In addition, residents in large cities tend to be much less connected to City Hall than people in small towns. They are therefore far less accepting of the concept of a new government-run public utility than their rural counterparts.