Open Access

A key problem in improving Internet access has been ensuring residents and local businesses have high quality services. One means of ensuring high quality is via competition – if people can switch away from their Internet Service Provider, the ISP has an incentive to provide better services. However, the high cost of building networks is a barrier for new ISPs to enter the market – limiting the number of options for communities. Open access provides a solution: multiple providers sharing the same physical network.

Publicly owned, open access networks can create a vibrant and innovative market for telecommunications services. Municipalities build the physical infrastructure (fiber-optic lines, wireless access points, etc.) and independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in a competitive market using the same physical network. In this competitive marketplace, ISPs compete for customers and have incentives to innovate rather than simply locking out competitors with a de facto monopoly. 

The open access model is often compared to road systems. Roads are built and maintained through both public funds and taxes on vehicles, but do not themselves fill the coffers of municipalities. They are then used by everyone – trucking companies, UPS, taxi cabs, pizza delivery people, etc. – to deliver services or get around. For the municipality, the net gain of building robust road systems comes in economic development successes, improvements in quality of life, and other indirect benefits rather than direct profits. 

Building open access broadband networks along the same principles has proven immensely successful at fostering competition and producing economic gains in some U.S. communities, but also more extensively in Sweden, France, and Japan. In the United States, this model has been used less frequently, in part because of differences in national regulation and the power of the largest corporations to shape policy.

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About Mark Milliman

Mark Milliman is a Principal Consultant at Inphotonics Research driving the adoption and assisting local governments to plan, build, operate, and lease access open-access municipal broadband networks. Additionally, he works with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to increase the value of their intellectual capital through the creation of strategic product plans and execution of innovative marketing strategies. With more than 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry that began at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Mark has built fiber, cable, and wireless networks around the world to deliver voice, video, and data services. His thorough knowledge of all aspects of service delivery from content creation to the design, operation, and management of the network is utilized by carriers and equipment manufacturers. Mark conceived and developed one of the industry's first multi-service provisioning platform and is multiple patent holder. He is active in the IEEE as a senior member. Mark received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.
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