Tri-City debates public broadband

The Tri-City Herald weighed in August 3 with its take on government-owned broadband saying high-speed internet access is essential for rural residents (Editorials: Tri-CityHerald) and constructing a straw-man of urban-dwellers who take their broadband speeds for granted. And, public utility district (PUD) commissioners from both Benton and Franklin PUDs reiterated that high-speed access is essential in their joint letter to the Tri-City Herald editor on August 7.

Missing from either of these statements was any acknowledgement of existing private fiber facilities in the area.

In a post on July 13, I quoted the 2011 Annual Report on Broadband in Washington, which says:

… 98.9 percent of the people in Washington State have access to some form of broadband at speeds in excess of 3 Mbps download and 768 kbps upload.

Yesterday in FCA comments on the Tri-City Herald site I said,

CenturyLink in particular has had fiber facilities between Pasco and Connell and on to Spokane with a fiber spur to Kahlotus since 1989.  As well, CenturyLink facilities are and have been available to both the health center in Connell and the library in Kahlotus through state Department of Information Services.  The new PUD fiber investment that has been the source of such celebration has not added capacity, but rather is a total overbuild of existing private facilities.

The editorial and PUD letters also both leaned heavily on the “essential” nature of broadband to a healthy economy and likened government provision of broadband through NoaNet (Northwest Open Access Network) and the PUDs to government provision of electricity in the 1930s.

Again, these happy tales leave out some essential information: Not only did local voters get to have a say about whether they wanted to be on the hook collectively for their government going into the electricity business, but they voted to approve a government electric monopoly for their region. Monopoly provision of an “essential service” is a tough business in which to fail.

In the case of PUD broadband provision, however, voters were not consulted about whether their PUDs should divert millions of electric ratepayers dollars to build a public broadband network. And the PUDs — against the advice of many experts a decade ago —  insisted on moving into broadband not as a protected public monopoly, but as an inexperienced governmental entity in a highly competitive marketplace of private providers. The telecommunications and broadband  sectors are more technical, volatile, and rapidly changing than any industry today.

There is insufficient benefit and many hidden costs to government utilities entering a dynamic and competitive broadband marketplace. Now, with the help of federal stimulus funds Washington PUDs have doubled down on a faulty decision made a decade ago of needlessly duplicating existing private services.  These decisions have already cost electric ratepayers millions of dollars. Continuing these policies will require millions more of them.

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This entry was posted in Benton PUD, Duplicate Facilities, FCA Letters and Op-Eds, Franklin PUD, NoaNet, Overbuilding, Rural broadband and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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