Broadband Research

Evaluating the Rationales for Government-Owned Broadband Networks, Charles M. Davidson and Michael J. Santorelli, The Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute, New York Law School, March 2013

This paper has two core goals with respect to GONs. First, in section 2, it seeks to place the debate over GONs into proper context by evaluating whether, from the municipal perspective, these networks are appropriate investments of public resources. Drawing on an array of data points and analyses regarding broadband availability, the fragility of basic public infrastructure due to underinvestment by local government, and the precariousness of local, state, and federal finances, this section concludes that GONs are extremely risky investments that, more often than not, are squandered.

The second core goal of the paper is to evaluate, from a public policy perspective, five major rationales that have been put forward in support of GONs. As detailed at length in section 3, these rationales encompass a broad range of motivations and policy justifications and include using a GON to bring broadband to unserved areas or to inject competition into a local market. Others attempt to position government-owned networks as essential investments aimed at spurring local economic development and job creation, while some see the pursuit of a GON as nothing more than a natural expression of local self-reliance. Taken together, the analyses included in this section underscore that GONs are counterproductive responses to circumstances that could be improved in a more efficient manner.

The paper concludes in section 4 with a brief overview of alternative paths that municipalities, in partnership with counterparts in the private and nonprofit sectors, might pursue to bolster broadband connectivity by individuals and innovators in key sectors like healthcare and education. Local government is well positioned to engage in a range of supply-side and demand- side activities that could yield many benefits for residents in a less costly and hazardous manner than endeavoring to build a GON.

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