Consumer demand for bandwidth skyrocketed during the pandemic as families struggled to work and learn from home. It also revealed how painfully out-of-date existing communication infrastructures in areas throughout the country.
Today, a 100/50 Mbps connection adequately allows video conferencing, surfing, streaming, and gaming with multiple devices. Projections anticipate symmetrical two-gigabit upload and download speed requirements by 2030. Metropolitan areas already enjoy these speeds. Rural communities with no broadband services are soon expected to receive government funding to construct fiber networks that will deliver high-speed broadband at affordable rates.
The remainder, most of suburban America, is limping along with inadequate broadband services, unable to compete in the fast-growing digital economy. The actual digital divide in the U.S. is the hundreds of small-to-medium sized underserved communities relying on a single incumbent service provider like cable companies that offer service barely meeting the minimum 25 Mbps federal threshold for broadband. Even in the densely-populated Northeast, often considered nearly 100% connected, many small towns still struggle with DSL and underperforming, expensive cable connections.
If these communities do nothing, they will be left behind, stuck with antiquated service from profit-driven companies. For example, Comcast is planning to charge its home internet customers for monthly data usage over 1.2TB. Customers exceeding this data limit will pay a monthly overage or be forced to upgrade to more expensive plans to access basic bandwidth needs.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Communities can take charge of their broadband future by building publicly-owned fiber-to-the-premises networks to serve every resident in the community. Fiber is future-proof and can easily meet the communications needs of homes, businesses, community institutions, and government agencies for decades. The capacity of a single strand of fiber cable is thousands of times that of any other wired medium. Without amplification, signals carry for miles. And fiber will not corrode on exposure to environmental conditions. This equates to reliable networks with lower maintenance costs and a useful life of decades.
In rural areas, the challenge in bringing universal fiber to under-served populations is distance. Fewer homes spread across larger geographic areas means a network buildout requires hundreds of miles of fiber, sometimes through remote and rugged terrain. To ensure affordability, a public-private partnership with a private provider like Sertex can leverage the town’s ability to finance capital projects at low long-term interest rates. By owning the networks, communities control the ISP costs and create an infrastructure that pays for itself.
Municipally Owned, Privately Serviced Last-Mile Fiber Networks
Recognizing broadband as an essential utility like roads and electricity, municipalities can build out fiber networks as a capital project. In a public/private model, the community provides the financing and manages rights of way. The private entity, like Sertex, deploys the infrastructure, maintains the fiber and equipment, and runs the business and operational end of the network, including sales and marketing, customer service, and technology updates. For their investment, the private operator quickly accesses new markets without investing in infrastructure.
Just as a municipality would fund any infrastructure, local governments can access capital markets and use grants or low-cost public financing methods, including municipal or revenue bonds, to fund network development. No private entity has access to funding with similar rates and terms.
With gigabit fiber networks, small to medium-sized communities can compete digitally with big cities and affluent suburbs. Municipalities can take control of their telecommunications infrastructure and open the doors for future growth.