Publicly owned Internet infrastructure is luring jobs to smaller towns. Should big cities follow their lead?
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently compiled this map of all the communities in the country that control their own access to the Internet. At best count, there are about 340 of them with publicly owned fiber-optic or cable networks, serving either all or parts of town. In these places, those residents and businesses served don’t have to spar with telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast. They get their Internet instead – like many communities do their electric utility – straight from the city.
The red states on the map have passed laws restricting the ability of local communities to build their own networks (primarily with the pressure of telecom lobbyists). And, at first blush, it’s striking that a state like Texas has almost no municipal broadband. But this picture also reveals another curious contrast.
"The interesting thing about the map is how few big cities are on it," says Christopher Mitchell, who directs the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the institute. In fact, the largest city on this map is Chattanooga, where a two-year-old citywide fiber network serves about 170,000 households. The next biggest city is Lafayette, Louisiana, home to about 120,000 people. From there, this movement drills down into intimate communities of just tens of thousands of residents, or less.