Broadband at the Speed of Light

Date: 9 Apr 2012 | posted in: information, MuniNetworks | 12 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments, a new report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Benton Foundation reveals

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well known for being the first community with citywide access to a “gig,” or the fastest residential connections to the Internet available nationally. Less known are Bristol, Virginia, and Lafayette, Louisiana – both of which now also offer a gigabit throughout the community.

A new report just released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) and the Benton Foundation explains how these communities have built some of the best broadband networks in the nation.

Download Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks

The report is now available for your Nook, Google Play, and you can even find it for your iPad in the App Store.

“It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

“Communities need 21st century telecommunications infrastructure to compete in the global economy,” said Charles Benton, Chairman & CEO of the Benton Foundation. “Hopefully, this report will resonate with local government officials across the country.”

Mitchell is a national expert on community broadband networks and was recently named a “Top 25 Doer, Dreamer, and Driver” by Government Technology. He also regularly authors articles at

The new report offers in-depth case studies of BVU Authority’s OptiNet in Bristol, Virginia; EPB Fiber in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and LUS Fiber in Lafayette, Louisiana. Each network was built and is operated by a public power utility.

Mitchell believes these networks are all the more important given the slow pace of investment from major carriers. According to Mitchell, “As AT&T and Verizon have  ended the expansion of U-Verse and FiOS respectively, communities that need better networks for economic development should consider how they can invest in themselves.”

Read ongoing coverage related to these networks at ILSR’s site devoted to Community Broadband Networks.  You can also subscribe to a once-per-week email with stories about community broadband networks.

About ILSR: Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) proposes a set of new rules that builds community by supporting humanly scaled politics and economics. The Telecommunications as Commons Initiative believes that telecommunications networks are essential infrastructure and should be accountable to residents and local businesses.,

About Benton: The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity, and by demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all.

Download Broadband At the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks


Follow Christopher Mitchell:
Christopher Mitchell

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He runs as part of ILSR's effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them.

12 Responses

  1. Eric Lampland
    | Reply

    Excellent report. The depth of this report will contribute to the efforts of all who believe that advanced fiber-based network infrastructure is critical to the health of communities; indeed, the nation.

    Thank you for your service.

  2. Paul Brinkman
    | Reply

    Thank you, Christopher. So true! We represent a public enterprise in Northeast Minnesota with a vision for how middle mile fiber infrastructure can transform rural communities. With the help of USDA, we are mid-way through construction of a 920 mile fiber optic network that will be colorless, directionless and contentionless. In other words, “best of breed.” Once complete (Fall 2012), this public, open access backbone will meet global standards…as a “local” deployment. Keep up the great work at ILSR.

  3. Paul Ferris
    | Reply


    This is a remarkable piece of work. Can’t thank you enough for how much I’ve learned from this paper. Extremely relevant and extremely timely. Glad I had a chance to digest it all before going to the Broadband Communities conference in Dallas next week. I’ve also forwarded it to a few people of influence I know and told them it’s required reading. Again, your support of community broadband networks is pivotal and I’m sure this was one heck of an undertaking. Thanks and regards, Paul Ferris.

  4. Chris Wildbore
    | Reply

    I think this is a great idea. It supports ‘buy local’ and encourages community. However, so long as Czar Harper has been dethroned (he has just cut funding to public internet sites) I don’t see this happening. This kind of infrastructure would require some amount of fed dollars.
    Excellent article. It should be more widely broadcast. Of course, if you it starts to get a lot of readers then I bet big telecom will make it disappear.

  5. Robert Little
    | Reply

    Great work. If, as the UN and many other governments have said, access to the Internet should be a human right, the work that is being done here is of utmost importance. We must remember, the telecoms have deep pockets and powerful allies; we must keep up the good fight.

  6. Mike
    | Reply

    I am not persuaded. As someone who grew up through – Atari, Commodore, the IBM “compatible” PCs, Windows 3.1, WFW, Win98, WinXP, WinME, Win2k, Win Vista, Win 7, 28.8, 56k, ISDN, DSL, and now fiber optic / cable (T1, T3, etc) and from text based web, to streaming web, downloading images to downloading Blu-Ray discs, wired to wireless, pre-facebook, twitter, google, IPad, IPhone, Smart Phones, Nooks, Kindles, etc, and lately the “cloud”, I have seen us exceed and outgrow our capacity and am not persuaded that broader, widespread, faster access is the solution.

    It hasn’t been up until now.

    Give more people more and better access and more people will want better access.

    At what point do we reach “enough”?

    If EVERYONE has a 1 GB connection, why not a 2 GB connection? a 4 GB connection?

    When everything we currently have is in the “cloud”, and the cloud reaches capactiy, where will we put everything that isn’t on the cloud that isn’t built, hasn’t expanded to accommodate everything else?

    When EVERYTHING is available to EVERYONE is ANYTHING really secure / private / confidential? And what should / shouldn’t be and who decides?

    Not that ANY of that / this matters.

    Just give me MORE.

  7. Richard from Leverett
    | Reply

    June 2, 2012 Leverett, Massachusetts easily passed its propisition 2-1/2 Debt Exclusion Vote to fund construct a Municipal FTTH 1GB speed symetrical network by a vote of 462 to 90.

    This overwhelming mandate demonstrates the determination of the Leverett Citizens to move forward and construct their own municipally owned telecommunications infrastructure in the face of neglect by the incumbent telecommuncations corporations and The US Congress’s refusal to pass national telecommuniations infrastructure reform and infrastructure legislation.

    Leverett citizens are moving their town from being a town of consumers consumers at the mercy of the incumbents to a town with its own municipally owned telecommunicaitons infrastructure .

  8. Christopher
    | Reply

    In response to Mike, who has his doubts, I wonder whether he believes we should cease expanding our electrical grid too. Yes, demand is increasing — in part because we are transferring video now in addition to text but also because people are realizing how many things can be done over the Internet.

    The benefit of moving toward fiber-optic infrastructure is that it can handle the increasing demands — the DSL and cable systems cannot. So when we need to move to 10 Gbps rather than 1Gbps, we will be able to — and at less investment than it took to move from copper to fiber.

    Bandwidth is not a natural resource that can be used up or will pollute the more it is used. I see no reason to discourage it.

  9. […] offers 1Gbps speed, and serves residential, as well as business, customers. Those customers get much more speed and reliability for their dollar. And they get a connection with net neutrality — the freedom to […]

  10. […] he published three in-depth case studies of citywide publicly owned gigabit networks, called “Broadband at the Speed of Light.” In April 2011, Mitchell released the Community Broadband Map, a comprehensive map of community […]

  11. […] he published three in-depth case studies of citywide publicly owned gigabit networks, called “Broadband at the Speed of Light.” In April 2011, Mitchell released the Community Broadband Map, a comprehensive map of community […]

  12. […] he published three in-depth case studies of citywide publicly owned gigabit networks, called “Broadband at the Speed of Light.” In April 2011, Mitchell released the Community Broadband Map, a comprehensive map of community […]

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