Local Government Broadband Initiatives
36 Pages Posted: 9 May 2012
Date Written: August 26, 2003
The future for Internet access is broadband. Policymakers at all levels of government are exploring initiatives to promote the deployment and adoption of broadband services. Whereas the first generation of narrowband dial-up access could largely piggyback on legacy telephone infrastructure that was already nearly universally available, broadband relies on more heterogeneous infrastructure and its availability is less evenly distributed.4 It appears that broadband access is more "local" than narrowband, which suggests a greater role for local government in affecting how next generation access services will evolve. In recent years, an increasing number of local communities have adopted a range of initiatives to promote broadband access.
While numerous case studies of isolated initiatives exist, there is little systematic data or research categorizing the range of activity or assessing the effectiveness of these efforts. Those undertaking the experiments have little common knowledge to rely on, but their efforts provide a fertile opportunity for a natural experiment regarding the effectiveness of divergent intervention strategies. The diversity of initiatives correlates with our expectation that broadband is likely to evolve more heterogeneously than narrowband, with a more diverse array of technologies, ownership structures (private/public), and services offered. Enhanced understanding of local initiatives will provide useful insight into how the Internet is likely to evolve, and will provide guidance to enhance the effectiveness of local policy and a better understanding how it relates to regional and national communications infrastructure policy.
Building on pioneering research by Strover and Berquist, (2001)5 , this paper extends our knowledge of local broadband initiatives by presenting a taxonomy for classifying the range of broadband policies that local governments may adopt. We then focus on a specific type of intervention: the decision by communities with municipal power utilities to offer communication services. We present some preliminary analysis of these communities and how they are distinct. Not surprisingly, this analysis suggests that local governments are likely to be most active in locales which are under-served by private sector providers, which is precisely the sort of environment wherein public-sector intervention makes the most sense.
This paper represents a first step in an on-going research effort to better understand the factors that influence a local communities decision to act, and the effectiveness of those actions.
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