The Nation – June 3, 2016
Downtown Chattanooga looks like a lot of post-industrial cities: wide streets, a mix of old brick buildings and uninspired 60s-era brutalism. Except there’s something here that many small downtowns do without these days: people. And many of them are here not just for the usual accouterments of your average gentrified downtown—fancy restaurants, condos, and concert venues (though those do exist here), but for something more basic, and arguably much more important: the Internet.
It’s been such a success that dozens of other towns and cities have begun their own municipal broadband networks, providing Internet faster and cheaper than private companies.
“Really, these last two years you’ve seen it pick up steam,” said Christopher Mitchell, the director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). “It’s just going to keep on spreading.”
Six years ago, Chattanooga was the only city offering publicly owned 1-gigabit Internet. Today, over 50 communities do, according to ILSR, and there are over 450 communities in the United States offering some form of publically owned Internet. Many municipal networks are in small towns and rural areas where private high-speed Internet is hard to come by. But several dozen are in cities like Chattanooga, where there are other, private options for internet that tend to be much more expensive and slower than what governments have proven they can provide.