deployments are broadband Internet access
Broadband Internet access, often shortened to just "broadband", is a high data rate, low-latency connection to the Internet— typically contrasted with dial-up access using a 56 kbit/s modem or satellite Internet with inherently high latency....
services provided either fully or partially by local governments. Common connection technologies include unlicensed wireless (Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi or Wifi, is a mechanism for wirelessly connecting electronic devices. A device enabled with Wi-Fi, such as a personal computer, video game console, smartphone, or digital audio player, can connect to the Internet via a wireless network access point. An access point has a range of about 20...
, wireless mesh networks
A wireless mesh network is a communications network made up of radio nodes organized in a mesh topology. Wireless mesh networks often consist of mesh clients, mesh routers and gateways.The mesh clients are often laptops, cell phones and other wireless devices while the mesh routers forward traffic...
), licensed wireless (such as WiMAX
WiMAX is a communication technology for wirelessly delivering high-speed Internet service to large geographical areas. The 2005 WiMAX revision provided bit rates up to 40 Mbit/s with the 2011 update up to 1 Gbit/s for fixed stations...
), and fiber-optic. Although many cities previously deployed Wi-Fi based solutions, municipal fiber-to-the-home networks are becoming more prominent due to increased demand for modern audio and video applications, which are increasing bandwidth requirements by 40% per annum.
Most municipal broadband networks avoid sometimes unreliable hub and spoke distribution models and use mesh networking
Mesh networking is a type of networking where each node must not only capture and disseminate its own data, but also serve as a relay for other nodes, that is, it must collaborate to propagate the data in the network....
instead. This method involves relaying radio signals throughout the whole city via a series of access points or radio transmitters, each of which is connected to at least two other transmitters. Mesh networks provide reliable user connections and are also faster to build and less expensive to run than the hub and spoke configurations. Internet connections can also be secured through the addition of a wireless router to an existing wired connection – a convenient method for Internet access provision in small centralized areas. Although wireless routers are generally reliable, their occasional failure means no Internet availability in that centralized area. This is why companies now use mesh networking in preference to hub and spoke configurations.
Three basic models for the operation and funding of Wi-Fi networks have emerged:
- Networks designed solely for use by municipal services (fire, police, planners, engineers, libraries, etc.). Municipal funds are used to establish and run the network;
- Quasi-public networks for use by both municipal services and private users owned by the municipality but operated for profit by private companies ("private hot spots"). Such networks are funded by specially earmarked tax revenues then operated and maintained on a chargeable basis by private service providers;
- Private service providers using public property and rights of way for a fee. These allow for in-kind provision of private access to public rights of way to build-out and maintain private networks with a 'lease payment' or percentage of profits paid to the municipality.
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...
, the city owned Stokab provides network infrastructure through dark fiber
A dark fiber or unlit fiber is an unused Optical fiber, available for use in fiber-optic communication.The term dark fiber was originally used when referring to the potential network capacity of telecommunication infrastructure, but now also refers to the increasingly common practice of leasing...
to several hundred service providers who provide various alternative services to end users. Reggefiber in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...
fulfils a similar role. The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency
The Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency is a consortium of 16 Utah cities engaged in deploying and operating a fiber to the premises network to every business and household within its footprint...
provides service at one network layer
The network layer is layer 3 of the seven-layer OSI model of computer networking.The network layer is responsible for packet forwarding including routing through intermediate routers, whereas the data link layer is responsible for media access control, flow control and error checking.The network...
higher through a fiber network. This system's capacity is wholesaled to fifteen service providers who in turn provide retail services to the market. A final model is the provision of all layers of service, such as in Chaska, Minnesota
As of 2005, there were 22,467 people and 8,194 households residing in the city. The population density was 1,640 people per square mile . There were 6,235 housing units at an average density of 454.1 per square mile...
, where the city has built and operates a Wi-Fi Internet network that provides email and web hosting applications. These different models involve different public-private partnership arrangements, and varying levels of opportunity for private sector competition.
In the U.S. a few states have banned municipal broadband, others have restricted it, and some have regulated it following prudent business plans and studies. In 2007, three bills concerning the issue were pending before the U.S. Congress. One would have affirmed municipal broadband, one would have restricted it, and one would have prohibited it. The Community Broadband Act of 2007, created "to promote competition, to preserve the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services, and for other purposes", never became law.
Incumbent telecommunications and cable companies wishing to maintain their dominance in the market have complained that government competition is unfair. Other network operators have viewed it as an opportunity to expand their market. The Free Press
Free Press is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization working to reform the media in the United States.It was founded in 2002 by media scholar Robert W. McChesney, The Nation contributor John Nichols, and Josh Silver, current CEO of the Democracy Fund, a foundation challenging the influence...
, the Media Access Project, and the ACLU have all come out in favor of municipal broadband.
The reconstruction of New Orleans
The Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 caused significant problems due to the breach of the flood protection system designed after 1965 to protect the city. Over 204,000 homes in New Orleans were damaged or destroyed, and more than 800,000 citizens displaced — the greatest displacement in the United...
provided the impetus to build a metro-scale wireless broadband network to deliver free public Internet service alongside communications for government and emergency services. Bell South threatened the city with legal action if the New Orleans municipal network continued to be run by the city. Consequently, the network was sold to a third-party company.
Municipal broadband offers a number of advantages to consumers and to the economy. Such networks often provide high speed Internet access for free, if not more cheaply than other current broadband service providers. Different cities adopt different models according to their needs. In the case of St. Cloud, Florida
St. Cloud is a city in Osceola County, Florida, United States. The population was 35,183 at the 2010 census. St. Cloud is closely associated with the adjacent city of Kissimmee and its proximity to Orlando area theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and Seaworld.St...
's, a municipal broadband network offers free access to everyone as does Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Municipal broadband not only provide high speed Internet access for free it also lowers prices, creates competition, and boosts economic development. These advantages help keep prices down and networks functioning efficiently. Municipal broadband companies are faced with a constantly changing and highly competitive market with many operators. This keeps prices down and makes broadband affordable in rural and low-income communities. In a 2004 White House report, the President called for "universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007" and "plenty of technology choices when it comes to purchasing broadband".
Worker productivity can also increase as a result of municipal broadband by giving city officials such as police officers and firefighters remote access to information. Intelligent transport systems rely on fiber-optic infrastructure to network and manage thousands of traffic signals in large metropolitan areas every day. Building inspectors can issue reports and access networked data while conducting inspections. Public buildings in remote areas can be connected through Wi-Fi without the expense of fiber or private telecommunications contracts. Police officers can access security cameras, blueprints, criminal records and other necessary information. Networks can allow officers to show witnesses mug shots or "virtual lineups
A police lineup or identity parade is a process by which a crime victim or witness's putative identification of a suspect is confirmed to a level that can count as evidence at trial....
" at the scene of a crime, instead of at a police station. The Department of Homeland Security provides funding for cities that use municipal networks for these applications.
Not only does municipal broadband help public servants with their jobs, it also helps close the digital divide
The Digital Divide refers to inequalities between individuals, households, business, and geographic areas at different socioeconomic levels in access to information and communication technologies and Internet connectivity and in the knowledge and skills needed to effectively use the information...
. Such services help bridge the gap by providing people with public access to the Internet. This allows low income families, travelers, and city officials to access important information without budgetary considerations in mind. The importance of free Internet access is based on information availability, for example students with no home based access are able to log on to the Internet using municipal broadband. Commentators hope that municipal broadband networks will make cities more attractive to businesses, especially high-tech and research companies, which are dependent on communication. Communication also enables small and home-based businesses to participate in international and regional commerce. Municipal broadband also allows companies to recruit new employees who can telecommute
Telecommuting or telework is a work arrangement in which employees enjoy flexibility in working location and hours. In other words, the daily commute to a central place of work is replaced by telecommunication links...
without physically relocating.
In 2000, the Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...
endorsed municipal broadband as a "best practice
A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark...
" for bringing broadband to under served communities. The FCC also addressed the question of whether a municipality was an "entity" under the Telecommunications Act
There are several pieces of legislation named the Telecommunications Act* Telecommunications Act 1997, Australia* Telecommunications Act * Telecommunications Act 1984, United Kingdom* Telecommunications Act of 1996, United States...
which mandates that "No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service." 47 USC 253(a). The legal question revolved around whether a state could prevent a municipality, as its subordinate government body, from entering the telecommunication market. In the case of Missouri Municipal League v. Nixon, the U.S. Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...
concluded that a municipality was not an entity under the Telecommunications Act and that a state could determine what authority its own subordinate jurisdictions had.
Governments have the advantage of being able to take a long term view and write off investments in municipal broadband over longer time periods. Private companies on the other hand, especially publicly traded ones, have to show profitability in a very short period. This indicates that governments are the best entities to create a broadband network—as infrastructure—then allow private companies to run it and deliver services such as IPTV
Internet Protocol television is a system through which television services are delivered using the Internet protocol suite over a packet-switched network such as the Internet, instead of being delivered through traditional terrestrial, satellite signal, and cable television formats.IPTV services...
, telephony and Internet access. In this way, governments are able to create a competitive environment where the network owner does not determine which services consumers can receive. "Structurally separation" or "functional separation" are terms often used to describe broadband as infrastructure that is open to all service providers. Governments may also be driven by their desire to lay down critical broadband infrastructure that serves a larger constituency made up of individuals, small businesses, schools, government entities and service providers. Building open-access local broadband networks can help with the infrastructure of a town and provide benefits to the townspeople that compensate for the costs involved.http://www.lus.org/uploads/MunicipalBroadbandNetworksStudy.pdf
Having a publicly-owned infrastructure provides a positive outcome in economic development as it attracts more locally owned businesses who can rely on high speed Internet connections to help their businesses. Such networks also deliver ubiquitous coverage in areas where private companies cannot own and operate public broadband networks. Enhanced services are included whereby townspeople can benefit from a greater diversity of value-added products. Security is a further issue with the need for a reliable integrated high-speed communications infrastructure at both a national and a local level necessary for hospitals, schools, businesses etc. to provide a quick and large scale responses to emergencies.
Although municipal broadband may be helpful to many, there is a question as to whether it is essential and if so at what cost. Municipal broadband ideology and technology have complex issues with numerous legal implications, all of which must be considered when installing municipal broadband or wireless networking. Social focus needs to be directed at government agencies who authorize municipal broadband, thus dictating its availability and price. As a relatively new and improvable concept, municipal broadband is still extensively regulated by both the FCC and individual state guidelines and standards. Universal broadband services cannot be implemented without rigorous governmental-policy debate in regulating the use of the broadband. A study by the Reason Foundation found that highly dynamic wireless Internet technology allows for a higher risk for providers. There are also concerns over price gouging or "elasticity of demand", a concept that will force Internet service providers to provide a continued loop of special offerings and lower prices.
Legally and politically, the issues surrounding broadband are numerous, but a multitude of technical issues are yet to be overcome, such as how citywide wireless Internet can avoid interfering with transmissions by other Internet and network providers. There are also four important economic aspects to be considered with the respect to municipal broadband:
- Which providers are currently providing service in a particular area or region?
- What will be the effect on current providers economically, socially, and individually?
- Will the installation be funded by local, state, or national government?
- Who will be responsible for on-going maintenance?
Of these four areas, the funding question is the most controversial and contingent upon the belief that national government should fund broadband. There are concerns over complete convergence and control of the Internet being placed in government hands under projects ultimately funded by the taxpayer. Although municipal broadband has the potential to provide a quandary in concepts of right or wrong, rich or poor, and literacy or illiteracy, the technology can either work to decrease the ever growing digital divide or might just as easily make it wider.
Successful implementation in Bristol, VA
In 2003, in the relatively isolated city of Bristol, Virginia
Bristol is an independent city in Virginia, United States, bounded by Washington County, Virginia, Bristol, Tennessee, and Sullivan County, Tennessee....
, Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU), created a nonprofit offshoot called "Optinet", a municipal broadband Internet service that covers Bristol as well as the Southwest portion of the state of Virginia. Serving around 9,500 customers, BVU is recognized as the "first municipal utility in the United States to deploy an all-fiber network offering the triple play of video, voice and data services". On October 29, 2009, BVU received USD 3.5 million in grant funding from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revelitalization Commission. With these funds BVU will build "an additional 49 miles of its OptiNet fiber-optic backbone from Abingdon up I-81 to Virginia Route 16 from Marion into Grayson County". This will also allow for BVU to make a second connection with Mid Atlantic Broadband, increasing communication between different businesses in Northern Virginia. The Virginia Tobacco Community funded this project because it provided their business with more connections in crucial areas of the southwest and southern part of Virginia.
The U.S. Department of Commerce also funded BVU. On July 3, 2010, it was reported that they gave USD 22.7 million in stimulus funds to Southwest Virginia to create a "388-mile optic backbone through an eight-county region". This project will service over 120 institutions, such as schools, hospitals, government buildings, and many more besides. This new municipals broadband service will also be within a two-mile distance of over 500 different businesses. This project also created 295 new jobs. BVU Optinet continues operate a strong municipal broadband Internet service for Bristol and many other counties in Virginia.
In an effort to support U.S. federal government agencies attempting to deploy broadband services more widely, in a 2009 report the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailed cost estimates of providing "fiber optic connectivity to anchor institutions" in the United States. The institutions considered in the report were public schools, public libraries, hospitals and community colleges, with an estimated total cost of USD 5–10 billion.
On February 17, 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act became law in an effort to build the economy, assist in job creation and retention, and improve U.S. infrastructure. It allocated $4.7 billion to establish a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program as part of the National Telecommunications and Information Agency State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program. A portion of funding awards were allocated to extend and develop broadband services to reach rural and "underserved areas" as well as to improve broadband access for public safety agencies.
According to the Muni Wireless website, In February 2010, the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) awarded a $126.3 million grant to the Executive Office of the State of West Virginia to improve the state's broadband structure. That grant was part of the federal government's overall broadband stimulus to certain areas of the United States. With 2,400 miles of fiber, it is planned to improve the area's broadband connectivity and increase its overall speed in places like schools, government offices, public libraries, etc.
United States policy
See Internet in the United States#Implementing a National Broadband Policy
Current status of municipal wireless networks
See: Cities with Municipal Wireless Networks
- The Broadband Gap: Why Is Theirs Faster? – New York Times, March 10, 2009
- March 2009 List of cities with WiFi projects (MuniWireless)
- CNET Map of Municipal Broadband networks in the United States
- Cybertelecom: Municipal Broadband
- Panel discussion with Google about their project for San Francisco
- MuniWireless.com: the portal for the latest news and information about municipal wireless broadband projects around the world with a comprehensive summary of projects, market research reports, and conferences; set up by Esme Vos in 2003, updated list of U.S. cities and counties with wireless networks
- W2i.com: a comprehensive best practices sharing portal that address all aspects of municipal wireless deployments including a searchable database of municipal deployments worldwide, videos, audios, expert zones addressing various aspects of deploying municipal wireless networks, expert blogs, daily headlines
- Wi-Fi in Inner Toronto
- Wi-Fi in Inner Toronto
- CBC Newsl Earthlink shutting down Philadelphia Wi-Fi
- Vint Cerf Supports Municipal Broadband Networks
- Strategy Analytics: US Ranks 20th in Global Broadband Household Penetration
(2008). PLUGGING THE GAPS IN U.S BROADBAND. Industry Week/IW, 257(7), 61. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Aaron, C. (2008). The Promise of Municipal Broadband. Progressive, 72(8), 28–31. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Wilson, C. (2005). MUNICIPAL NETWORKS GAIN GROUND. Telephony, 246(8), 6–7. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.