Local governments and communities are faced with a dilemma when it is not commercially feasible for one or more companies to serve suburban and rural areas with competitive broadband services. Communities recognize that broadband networks contribute to their economic vitality so citizens ask them to pick up the ball where commercial enterprises will not go. Should local governments compete with commercial enterprises where they may have an unfair advantage? No. Government should facilitate the growth and creation of businesses; not compete with them. Local governments can do this by only deploying the fiber infrastructure and selling access to the fibers to any communication services provider that want to offer services in a community. This open access infrastructure promotes business in a community and gives consumers a choice of what services they want to purchase. The state of Tennessee should amend its’ law to allow communities and local governments to deploy fiber infrastructure and promote public/private partnerships when necessary to encourage competition for broadband services.
The results of a study commissioned by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) to evaluate broadband access throughout the state may encourage state lawmakers to rethink long-stalled legislation when the 110th General Assembly convenes in January.
According to the study, 13 percent of Tennesseans — 834,545 people – do not have access to broadband that meets the federal standard of 25 megabytes per second of download speed and 3 megabytes per second of upload speed.
The vast majority of those without access, the study found, are located in rural regions of the state: while 98 percent of urban residents in Tennessee have access to qualifying service, only 66 percent of those in rural areas do.
State Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), who has argued for years that such a disparity exists, met with TNECD Commissioner Randy Boyd late last month when the study’s findings were released.
“He said the survey validated my assertions,” said Bowling.
The study not only confirmed that rural Tennessee does not have access to affordable, dependable broadband; it also pointed out that the areas without access are “largely lower density areas, for which a business case may be weak.”
That’s another point Bowling has repeatedly made in the state legislature, where for more than seven years she has championed an effort to change state law to allow municipal broadband providers to extend their service into rural areas that are unserved or underserved by commercial providers.