Friday, May 17, 2013

It happened in Provo

     Provo, Utah, is the dead crow in the garden of community-owned broadband Internet services.

     It just sold the fiber-optic network that cost the city $39 million to build to Google for $1. Dead crows like this one tend to scare off others attracted to the garden’s tasty pickings.

     Utah state laws strangled the Provo network’s ability to sell its services on the retail market. Provo could only sell space at wholesale prices to resellers that provided services to the public at large. The city could also connect city offices with other public facilities, which the city of Boise has also done.

     Provo was delighted to get the monkey off its back when it sold the system after years of trying to make ends meet.

     As Ketchum proceeds in its examination of whether or not to create a local broadband network, it needs to keep Provo firmly in mind. It’s a complex question. It may be stating the obvious, but the city must have a firm grip not only on the costs of building a high-speed network but also of any ongoing maintenance, operation and future development costs.

     To go forward, the city must show persuasively that it can not only provide high speeds and reliability, but save money and improve the services it offers the public by developing a public network.

     Some communities in states like Idaho that don’t restrict the ability of public agencies to offer broadband as a service have successfully partnered with other government organizations and businesses to ensure that information flows fast and affordably on the Internet highway.

     Ketchum needs to make sure that any research it relies on is written in plain, easily understood language in order to avoid baffling a largely tech-deficient public with bytespeak. Otherwise, it will put the city at risk of joining Provo as another dead crow in the garden.

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