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Two Views: Breann Beggs: Broadband should be open to all

Imagine, Spokane: one fiber optic line to your home or business that every private internet service provider (ISP) could use to compete for your internet business. Just like the one system of city streets that lets you choose which company brings you packages (FedEx, UPS, or a local company) a publicly owned broadband infrastructure opens up the market to multiple private companies that must compete for your business by offering better service and lower prices.

The goal of Spokane’s Broadband Workgroup is not to create a new city-owned ISP, but to look for ways that the city can open up and expand its broadband infrastructure that already exists under our streets. Advances in software technology can allow one fiber optic cable to provide access to your home or business from multiple networks and providers, meaning that customers would no longer need to depend on one company to provide both the physical line to your home and the internet content.

Just as UPS and FedEx don’t build their own individual roads to your home, the future of broadband is a unified network operated by the government, much like it operates the street network. Customers choose whether or not to have an “internet driveway,” but if you do, you are able to take control of your infrastructure with multiple choices of ISPs to serve you. In addition, the competition for your business will likely drive down your monthly price and result in faster service because you can quickly change providers if you aren’t happy. Learn more about this new technology and how it could help Spokane by reviewing a video of a recent presentation to Spokane’s Broadband Workgroup at https://vimeo.com/262472866.

Cities like Ammon, Idaho, have proven that a modest investment in basic broadband infrastructure along the city right of way unleashes true competition among ISPs that benefits the entire city, including public safety, education, equity and more. More information about the Ammon story can be found here: https://youtu.be/vELWXp3OOUA and a longer version with information on public safety applications here: https://youtu.be/tSQVvFY4lPI. Shortly after Ammon adopted a voluntary program that put control in the hands of its residents, prices plunged and speeds increased. This model was financed by those who opted into the system and was not subsidized by taxpayers. Because Ammon relied on the private sector to provide all of the internet services and only provided the broadband infrastructure, the customers paid the entire bill and the program is financially successful for the city without raising prices for the end user.

The Spokane Broadband Workgroup is made up concerned residents, city staff and private-sector technology volunteers. The group is examining the possibility of creating a low-cost pilot project to see if a publicly-owned infrastructure could benefit Spokane in the same way it has for cities like Ammon. We will be looking at areas in Spokane where we can jump-start economic development and neighborhood revitalization as well as where we already have some city-owned infrastructure. Only after the working group submits recommendations to City Council will there be a discussion about whether to ask individual neighborhoods or business districts whether they are interested in participating.

Any proposed Spokane broadband project would rely on more private-sector companies to provide internet access than our current limited options. Open systems lead to greater innovation and competition in the private sector, which improves service and prices for city residents. The current broadband infrastructure is largely closed, and is structured like old-time road systems where you had to pay a toll to private companies at major street intersections. The old way is too costly, inefficient and tends to aggravate inequity in our community.

It is time for Spokane to insist that basic internet infrastructure is open to all people and all companies so that innovation wins out. If our economy and our students are to thrive, they need to have the tools to engage in the overarching information economy. User-paid public broadband infrastructure combined with expanded private companies providing internet access to our neighborhoods and business centers will secure Spokane’s place at the table of increasing economic vitality in the information economy for the benefit of all people.


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