Albany Times Union, March 20, 2015
Krasher, a Democrat who represents the midtown 11th Ward, wants a commission to study the possibility of building a city-run, citizen-owned high-speed Internet service to give residents faster broadband and force local private telecom companies to up their game.
Other cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., through a municipally owned utility, have done exactly that, resulting in what a recent White House report described as better service and spin-off economic benefit.
Of course Chattanooga’s high-speed infrastructure, which now offers speeds as high as a gigabit per second that would scorch local offerings, didn’t come cheap: $330 million to be exact, according to the Washington Post.
But experts say that need not be the case, especially in financially strapped cities like Albany that can pursue more gradual build-outs that first connect key public institutions like City Hall, libraries and schools.
Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Minneapolis-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said one of the biggest mistakes local governments make is assuming the network must be huge and built all at once.
“People will sometimes be confused and think that this is an all or nothing,” he said. “The key question in my mind is what can the city do within its present situation -— and it’s almost always more than what the city’s doing now.”
Krasher’s plans to introduce an ordinance April 6 to establish the City of Albany Commission on Municipal Internet Service to research the feasibility and potential costs of such a project.
Elsewhere upstate, the Syracuse Community Broadband Initiative and Free the Web in Buffalo are lobbying for similar projects in those cities.
In Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties, a local development corporation is building the $12.2 million fiber optic Southern Tier Network to lease network capacity to telecom companies, local governments and institutions.
Most Albany residents currently get their broadband service from either Time Warner Cable, which holds the city’s cable television franchise, or Verizon. But Verizon has not expanded its FiOS fiber-optic network from surrounding suburbs despite pleas from the likes of Mayor Kathy Sheehan and accusations of “red-lining” the city.
Unlike some states, there are no regulatory impediments in New York, Mitchell said.
In time, Krasher said, the city could build a network large enough to serve surrounding communities, which the FCC green-lighted for Tennessee and North Carolina in a landmark ruling last month.
In addition to economic spinoff from attracting new businesses, the network would also directly boost employment, he said.
“The dream here is that once this thing is up and running, you’d have to have a customer service center that would have to be based in the city of Albany — that’s jobs for residents,” Krasher said. “You’d have to have people who would maintain the infrastructure. That’s more jobs.”
“I don’t think that Internet service is a luxury. We’ve gotten to a point in society now where it’s necessary to have,” said Krasher, who grew up in rural Berne. “If Chattanooga can do it, we can do it. If North Carolina can do it, we can do it. No excuses.”