The case for community broadband

When a municipality provides its community and residents with broadband Internet, this is called community (or municipal) broadband.

It’s a public alternative to the privately-owned services sold by Bell, Rogers, Telus, and other Internet service providers (ISPs). A municipal broadband network is typically invested in by the local government, and Internet services can be sold by municipalities themselves, nonprofits, small ISPs, co-operatives, public utilities, public-private partnerships, and other community organizations.

Improving Accessibility

Municipal broadband can bridge the “digital divide” that exists between small towns and large centers. ISPs have been hesitant to invest in sparsely-populated areas in the past; telecom giants have determined that there is little profit to be made by bringing state-of-the-art infrastructure to subscribers outside of the urban sprawl.

A municipality can provide cheaper, more reliable, and more community-tailored Internet services to rural areas than large ISPs, as they are best equipped to address their own needs. If the community takes charge of operations, residents will then see the Internet become more accessible and affordable than ever before. Decisions on infrastructure improvements and upgrades are made with the best interests of the community in mind — not just the profits of big ISPs.

Social and Economic Benefits

Municipal broadband provides a solid foundation for businesses and residents within a given community. It also introduces healthy choice to the telecom market, which could encourage Internet providers to offer cheaper, faster services with more flexible offerings. And the best part? It's a great way to create a new source of revenue without raising taxes!

For a community, implementing a municipal broadband service is cost-effective and promotes job creation, efficiency, and greater savings on telecom costs. The inexpensive, yet cutting edge Internet access that results from municipal broadband has been proven to attract and retain small businesses. With a reliable connection and fast speeds, a company can improve the services they provide to their customers and trim their telecom expenses.

In towns across Canada, a quality Internet connection is becoming essential to enterprise in small communities. Businesses in Olds, Alta., were once threatening to leave town on the basis that their Internet was simply not fast enough to keep up with operations. The municipality launched a project to build their own fibre municipal broadband network “O-Net” in 2012; since its construction, Olds has again become a viable hub for business.

Meanwhile, south of the 49th parallel, Chattanooga, TN., is another city that has seen return on its community network investment from the growth of corporate and technological sectors in the community. Entrepreneurs, tech firms, researchers, and more chose to relocate to the city after the rollout of the “Chattanooga Gig,” their municipal-owned gigabit fibre network, breathed new life into the local economy.

Municipal broadband is a smart investment. It brings in revenue to the municipality itself and keeps it from leaking out. Money that flows within the community, not to telecom offices in large centers, is crucial to a sustainable local economy.

Self-sustaining communities are healthy and vibrant by nature. The potential for growth and a stable economy produce many social benefits which stem from projects themselves.

Municipal broadband is an instigator for civic engagement. It can lay the foundation for local residents, governments, and organizations to come together, attract new businesses, and keep young people in the community.